Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he stands by his government’s record on domestic violence after a former staffer said the Liberals turned their back on her when she was assaulted by a party staffer — her partner.
In a June interview with The Coast newspaper, Michelle Coffin spoke in detail about a 2014 assault at the hands of the premier’s former communications director, Kyley Harris, her then-boyfriend.
Coffin was a Liberal insider who held the top communications job prior to Harris. She said the party turned its back on her when the domestic violence case came to light.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, McNeil said he hasn’t read the article and he wasn’t briefed on it but he “knew the story was out.”
“I didn’t read that story,” McNeil said. “But I can tell you I stand by the record of our government.”
McNeil detailed his government’s investments in the province’s first sexual assault strategy and the planned expansion of a domestic violence court to Halifax as examples of his party’s work on the issue.
“We’re going to continue to make sure that this issue is brought to the forefront,” he said.
Harris pleaded guilty to assault and was fired from his post. He was later rehired to a lower level position in the Liberal caucus.
Coffin told The Coast, she was at first relieved Harris found a job. But that relief turned to shock when she discovered he had been promoted to the party’s top communications job ahead of last month’s provincial election campaign.
Harris eventually stepped down.
In The Coast, Coffin suggested Liberal officials downplayed the seriousness of the assault at the time, expressing concern for the repercussions on Harris, who was given a conditional discharge with nine months’ probation.
Asked if he was concerned by the allegations in the article McNeil said: “I don’t know what the allegations are, this story has been before the courts, the courts have made a decision.”
“The court system handled that case, the court system should handle every case,” he said. “What we do as a government is lay out public policy.”
Without mentioning her name, McNeil pointed out that Coffin didn’t work for the premier’s office or the party when the assault took place.
“Everyone should be entitled to due process, ensuring that they are given the supports that are required,” McNeil said. “That’s one of things that we have continued to do as a government, that’s why we continue to make those investments.”
Coffin declined an interview request from Global News but said no one from either the Liberal Party or premier’s office has contacted her since her story was published.
Coffin’s story ‘disturbing’: NDP
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he read the article and Coffin’s story prompts questions that “should be answered with clarity and directness.” But he said so far he hasn’t heard answers from the premier.
“What Miss Coffin has written is very disturbing and it raises many questions about the life within the upper levels of the Liberal Party,” Burrill said.
He said the article does “nothing to improve people’s confidence” in the premier’s office.
-With files from The Canadian Press.