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Crown attorneys to strike Wednesday

22-10-2019

Nova Scotia's Crown attorneys said that they will take job action beginning Wednesday. Perry Borden, centre, president of the attorneys' association, said the work stoppage is a political protest, and it's not a move the Crowns want to take. Tim Krochak / The Chronicle Herald - Tim Krochak

Most Crown attorneys won't be in the province's courtrooms Wednesday morning.

 

The Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys’ Association announced Tuesday afternoon that they are withdrawing their services in response to the province's sudden announcement last week that it is introducing legislation that "guts" the existing collective agreement between the two sides.

 

Bill 203 takes away the Crown attorneys' right to binding arbitration to settle contract impasses and instead provides the right to strike.

 

The association has almost 100 Crown attorneys employed by the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service. 

 

Association president Perry Borden said after the announcement that he's deeming what the association is doing as a political protest, and it's not a move the Crowns wanted to take. Of the 90 prosecutors at an emergency meeting Monday night, 81 per cent agreed to pull their services.

 

Crowns will still deal with urgent, serious criminal offences. Borden said Crowns are holding onto those files but turning in others. 

 

"It will be up to the province to find someone to cover those," Borden said.

 

He said there are lawyers that the province uses on a per diem basis to help out in courtrooms. They are not members of the association, but Borden said he knows of at least three who are refusing to take any files right now. 

 

He said the association won't interfere with per diem lawyers taking any files, and won't hold any ill will toward those who do.

 

"Not at all," he said.

 

Last week, the association accused the province of bad-faith bargaining after the legislation was announced the day after the group rejected the government's final contract offer.

 

"We're out for the remainder of this week, and there's no timeline on it," Borden said. 

 

"We would be back at the (negotiating) table tomorrow if the province wanted to be there. We can't be there with a gun to our head, though."

 

The Crowns will be protesting at Province House Wednesday, and in front of an MLA's office in Sydney.

 

"None of us want to be at the legislature, we don't want to be on the street," Borden said. "We want to be doing what we do best, ... and that's prosecute files that are before the criminal courts."

 

The association is asking for a 17 per cent pay increase over four years. The last contract expired on March 31.

 

The province offered a seven per cent increase over four years.

 

A 17 per cent raise raise would put Nova Scotia crown attorneys in the middle of the range for what colleagues are paid across the country.

 

The province said the lawyers are already the highest paid in Atlantic Canada and the pay bump would put them among the top third highest earners in the country. A senior Crown salary would increase to $160,000 from $149,149 under the Crown association's proposal, according to the province.

 

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said the Crowns are probably feeling backed into a corner.

 

He said Premier Stephen McNeil is using the 17 per cent requested raise as a soundbite, "but what that 17 per cent ignores is the caseloads (and) the work balance compared to other jurisdictions. There are many moving parts to negotiations, and the sad thing is that the premier 's tactics have now forced a group of qualified Crown attorneys to take dramatic action to state their case."

 

NDP justice critic Claudia Chender said the situation is "unfortunate."

 

She said not having lawyers in courtrooms is "terrifying." I think it's going to be a sad day for justice and reflect directly on this government, which has chosen to unilaterally breach a contract, that has been done -- by every expert opinion --  illegally."

 

McNeil said he's confident the bill will stand up. 

 

He told reporters at the legislature that a 17 per cent wage increase is too high, and giving that would mean legal aid lawyers, paramedics and government employees would expect that as the new standard, which the province can't afford.

 

https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/news/provincial/crown-attorneys-to-strike-wednesday-366780/