Nova Scotia Justice Outreach Initiative
The Veterans Justice Outreach Initiative in Nova Scotia is presently focused on alternatives to traditional court proceedings, such as Mental Health Courts, where applicable. This program is modelled after a successful program that has been operating in the United States since 2009. The program incorporates the Veterans military experience into decisions regarding Veterans in conflict with the law and promotes and facilitates referrals to Mental Health Courts.
Veterans Affairs Canada is currently piloting the initiative in Nova Scotia, with the long-term goal being the implementation of a standardized model across the country.
Nova Scotia’s Mental Health Court is located in Dartmouth. The Mental Health Court provides an alternative that treats fairly and compassionately those with mental health disorders who commit criminal offences, and helps them improve their mental health to reduce the risk to public safety. A Veteran Affairs case worker will work with the Court’s team to screen applicants and work with those eligible for the program.
The Court’s team is made up of professionals from the provincial justice and healthcare systems, including a Crown attorney, defence counsel from Nova Scotia Legal Aid and a dedicated judge (currently The Honourable Pamela S. Williams, Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia).
Veterans Affairs Canada staff at area offices across the country currently support Veterans in contact with the criminal justice system by doing such things as attending bail/sentencing hearings, providing letters to the courts as part of the mental health diversion process and working with probation and parole officers.
Veterans Affairs Canada received a proposal from LGen (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire in 2015 requesting that the Department initiate a pilot project to test the feasibility of establishing a Veterans Justice Outreach program in Canada. Since that time, MGen (Ret’d) Jerry Pitzul has worked closely with the Nova Scotia Judiciary and the Department to determine the scope of such a project.
A recent study (2015) by Correctional Service Canada (CSC) reports that approximately three percent of federally incarcerated individuals identify themselves as Veterans. In 2012, Veterans Affairs Canada signed a memorandum of understanding with CSC to better facilitate access to treatment and benefits for Veterans who are federally incarcerated.
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