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Staff of the Halifax Alehouse work in front of the bar in Halifax in the early hours of July 7, 2023. A former bouncer who worked at the bar is to face trial next year on manslaughter charges in relation to the 2022 death of Ryan Sawyer.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

The sister of a man who died after an altercation outside a Halifax bar more than two decades ago is threatening to sue the Nova Scotia government if it fails to bring into force a dormant law intended to regulate bouncers.

Lawyers acting for Terri Giffin sent a legal warning letter to Attorney-General Brad Johns this week urging the provincial government to immediately bring into force the Security and Investigative Services Act. The statute, known as SISA, was passed by all three political parties as a response to the 1999 death of Stephen Giffin after an altercation with Halifax bar bouncers.

The law aimed to heighten scrutiny on thousands of unregulated security guards in Nova Scotia, including bouncers, but it has never been brought into force by cabinet ministers of any government that has formed since the bill passed in 2010. Its limbo state was thrust into the spotlight last year after Ryan Sawyer, 31, died on Christmas Eve 2022, after another altercation at a Halifax bar.

“The failure to proclaim SISA is not just illegal, but tragic. SISA might have prevented the death of Ryan Sawyer,” said lawyer Sujit Choudhry, who represents Ms. Giffin.

The April 16 letter, penned by Mr. Choudhry, University of Ottawa law professor Paul Daly and Hamilton lawyer Nick Papageorge, warns that the Giffin family will petition the courts to order the government to bring the law into force. It says that unless the Progressive Conservative government “immediately” moves to bring the law into force, the Giffin family “will have no choice but to commence legal proceedings to compel the provincial cabinet to do so.”

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, whose party came to power in 2021, told reporters last fall that he has no plans to revive the dormant law. Previous Liberal and NDP cabinets have also declined to move the law forward when they were in power.

Those opposition parties have since urged the government to proclaim the law in the aftermath of Mr. Sawyer’s death.

The legal letter from the Giffin family rebukes the Nova Scotia government for effectively eliminating a law through unending delay. It also criticizes Mr. Houston and his government for elevating the prerogatives of cabinet ministers over a law that represents the expressed will of the legislature.

“The Province’s actions are illegal,” the letter says, adding, “The provincial cabinet does not have the power to determine whether the legislation should be brought into force at all.”

The letter goes on to say that “the Premier’s position, with respect, is legally incorrect.”

Bar bouncer Alexander Levy, who worked at the Halifax Alehouse, is to face trial next year on manslaughter charges in relation to the death of Mr. Sawyer. Two months prior to the alleged altercation, Mr. Levy was charged with criminal assault.

The letter says the SISA law might have prevented Mr. Sawyer’s death because had it been in force, Mr. Levy’s bar-bouncer licence likely would have been revoked owing to the prior criminal charge against him.

“The bouncer would not have been on duty on December 24, 2022 – and would have never had occasion to interact with Mr. Sawyer,” the legal letter says.

The criminal charges against Mr. Levy have not been proven in court.

Justice Department spokesperson Deborah Bayer said the letter has been received but declined further comment. “Out of respect for Mr. Giffin’s family, the department will be responding directly to the letter, not through the media.”

During a recent interview, Mr. Johns, the Attorney-General, said he is considering eliminating several statutes that have never been brought into force by various governments – including possibly the 2010 SISA statute.

He said this work would be akin to legislative housekeeping. “I think it’s somewhat prudent for us to go back and review some of those things, tidy up bills that have been sitting in limbo for a while.”

The Nova Scotia government last year introduced alternative regulations requiring new training and criminal-record checks for security staff at the province’s five late-night bars, including the Alehouse.

“Our government decided that we were going to take other ways instead of proclaiming it,” Mr. Johns told The Globe and Mail about that SISA statute. He added that “we weren’t prepared to look at enacting it.”

Mr. Sawyer’s family disagrees with this approach. Parents Lee and Scott Sawyer have told The Globe they consider the new rules a narrow half-measure in comparison with the unproclaimed law.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that lawyer Nick Papageorge is based in Halifax. He is based in Hamilton. This version has been updated.

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