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Tim Houston speaks with media, on Feb. 6 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Premier of Nova Scotia says that a law intended to shield the public from bouncers who use excessive force at nightclubs does not have to be activated by his government.

“Do we have a problem with unproclaimed legislation? No we don’t,” Tim Houston said Thursday in response to questions from The Globe and Mail. He was being asked to comment about a law left in limbo and a continuing regulatory void that came to the public’s attention following the death of 31-year-old Ryan Sawyer, a man who was allegedly killed at the hands of a Halifax bouncer last year.

In 2010, the Nova Scotia Legislature passed the Security and Investigative Services Act, a law that directed the government to put in place a registrar who would oversee the training and conduct of security staff at bars and nightclubs.

The law says that bouncers should report to the registrar any allegations of their use of excessive force, including events causing serious injury or death, so that such disclosures could lead to licences being pulled.

But while the bill is now technically a law, it contains a coming-into-force clause that gives cabinet ministers the ability to decide on the timing when it will be brought into force by being proclaimed. And for more than 13 years, the law has never been proclaimed, meaning that no such registrar is in place and that bouncers remain unlicensed in Nova Scotia.

The bar bouncer who now stands criminally accused of manslaughter in Mr. Sawyer’s death last December had already been facing a criminal assault charge at the time of the fatal incident.

Mr. Houston said on Thursday that he sees Mr. Sawyer’s death as an “absolute tragedy” and his “thoughts and condolences are with the family.” He highlighted how his government last May announced new rules for bouncers that impose an online training scheme and criminal background checks for security staff at five nightclubs in the province.

The Premier says that his government has full discretion to not proclaim the 2010 law, which would have enforced much stronger and more sweeping measures on all bar bouncers in the province.

“It’s not unlawful. It’s our position that the decision of the government to make legislation subject to proclamation at a later date, that’s under the sole authority of the legislature,” Mr. Houston said. “I mean governments of all stripes in this province have not proclaimed bills. ... It’s not unlawful in any way, shape or form.”

It was an NDP government that introduced the bar bouncer law more than 13 years ago. That government never brought the statute into force and neither did the Liberal government that served two terms before the election of the current Progressive Conservatives.

Some experts say that it is unlawful for a government to indefinitely ignore any law passed by a legislature.

Earlier this week, legal scholar Sujit Choudhry told The Globe that premiers and cabinet ministers have a duty to implement laws that have passed legislative votes, including the bouncer law in Nova Scotia. “Have they written off the 2010 law? If they have, that’s unlawful,” Mr. Choudhry said, adding that the Progressive Conservative government could be exposed to a legal action.

Opposition parties are calling on the current government to proclaim the law. “It’d be very simple for the current majority government to proclaim the legislation,” N.S. Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said during an interview. “Now that this issue is back on the public radar, I don’t know why this legislation hasn’t been proclaimed.”

He said that the failure of successive Nova Scotia governments to proclaim the bar-bouncer legislation highlights a need for politicians in the province to keep better track of statutes. “Issues change very rapidly and the pressures on the legislature and the government can shift pretty dramatically over the weeks and months so you have to strike while the iron is hot,” Mr. Churchill said.

In 2001, the Nova Scotia Legislature passed a law that was intended to flag legislation that had gone unproclaimed for long periods to elected members, so they could know that their initiatives could be at risk of disappearing.

However, this statute has never been proclaimed into force after more than two decades.

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