Nova Scotia justice minister says domestic violence not at 'epidemic' level

HALIFAX — As Nova Scotia marked the fourth anniversary of the mass shooting that claimed 22 lives, the province's justice minister was forced to apologize for saying that domestic violence is not an "epidemic."

Brad Johns's comments after a cabinet meeting Thursday were in response to a reporter's question on the inquiry report into the mass shooting, which recommended that domestic violence be treated as an epidemic.

Johns said that while he agrees that domestic abuse is a problem, there are bigger issues facing the province, including drugs and gun violence.

An epidemic of domestic violence would mean "you are seeing it everywhere all the time, and I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.

Shortly after, Premier Tim Houston joined the news conference via video feed to express support for the inquiry’s recommendations and to say that Johns would be apologizing.

“I want to be very clear about this government’s position on domestic violence, this is an issue that we take very seriously,” the premier said. “As the Mass Casualty Commission included in its report, domestic violence is an epidemic in Nova Scotia and in Canada. The commission was also clear that it played a role in the tragedy that occurred in 2020.”

The commission heard that the gunman assaulted his spouse moments before he began his 13-hour rampage during which he murdered 22 people in the rural community of Portapique, N.S., and in the north and central parts of the province. The public inquiry released its findings in April of last year, issuing 130 recommendations aimed at improving public safety and policing. The commissioners said their findings about domestic violence are the "single most important" lesson to be learned.

Houston said his government is committed to doing everything it can to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again, adding that “this very much means addressing domestic violence in communities.”

A few hours later, Johns issued an apology.

“I made comments that were wrong and have caused pain,” he said in an emailed statement. “The pervasiveness of domestic violence and the harm it causes in our communities is not something that should ever be minimized and I am truly sorry that my words did so. This government, my department and I agree that domestic violence is an epidemic.”

The Opposition Liberals and the NDP said Thursday that Johns's opinions were unacceptable and that he should resign or be fired from his cabinet role.

“His comments are pretty disgusting,” said Liberal Leader Zach Churchill. “An apology isn’t enough … he should resign or be removed from that post.”

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the Mass Casualty Commission was clear in its recommendations, which Johns has a role in implementing.

“To deny the notion that the epidemic exists says that he is not fit to lead that department,” said Chender.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press