Nova Scotia’s justice minister says banning the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault is not a priority for his government, but he does not think the legal documents should be used in that way.
“I believe that it is an abuse of what they were initially intended for,” Brad Johns said in an interview Friday.
The use of non-disclosure agreements has become a central topic in scandals that rocked the organizational structure of Hockey Canada and led to the recent resignation of its CEO and board.
The departures followed an exodus of sponsors and calls from a number of politicians, including Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, for change within the organization after reports of secret settlement payouts by Hockey Canada to survivors who were required to sign non-disclosure agreements to settle allegations of sexual assault against some former Team Canada players.
Last year, the P.E.I. Legislature passed a bill with all-party support that bans the use of NDAs in cases of harassment, discrimination and sexual misconduct, unless it’s acceptable to the person making the allegation.
NDP leader wants action now
The Nova Scotia NDP introduced similar legislation last spring, but failed to receive the necessary support of the government to move it through the legislative process. At the time, Johns said his department was in the preliminary stages of evaluating the situation.
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said on Friday that the government should support her party’s bill or bring forward a version of its own this session.
“We’ve heard lots of stories — heartbreaking stories — of people who are unable to pursue justice because they are bound by agreements with people who have a lot of power and a lot of interest in keeping them quiet,” she said.
“This is an idea whose time has long since come and we can be a leader or we can be a laggard.”
Chender said her party’s proposed ban would not apply to the use of NDAs in legitimate business situations, such as with trade secrets or copyright.
‘Not a priority right now’
Johns said he understands the call for legislation to be passed as soon as possible, but he first wants to see how things play out on P.E.I.
The minister said officials in Manitoba and British Columbia are also monitoring that situation. Johns said he has concerns that no other province has passed similar legislation yet.
“The question becomes why. And so I think it’s better to just slow things down and see how things continue to go in P.E.I. and make a decision in the future on whether or not the province will do that,” he said, adding that there’s no timeline for making a decision about legislation.
“It’s not a priority right now of this government.”
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