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Bitter anniversary for Quebec government lawyers

It was one year ago today that the Quebec government passed a law that forced the province’s 1,100 civil lawyers and notaries back to work after a four-month general strike, the longest in Canadian public service history. But the head of the lawyers’ union says time hasn’t taken the sting out of the collective slap his members received when the law was passed following a marathon 24-hour debate in the National Assembly on Feb. 28, 2017.

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Publication date : 2018-02-28
‘Bully’ bosses issue ‘swept under the carpet’ until junior government lawyer sent email

A junior lawyer’s decision to speak out — with an email copied to dozens of government lawyers — about an allegedly “abusive” boss at Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General caused Queen’s Park to finally take notice of historic problems that were later called a “festering” sore in a government report.

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Publication date : 2018-02-22
Ontario government lawyers being terrorized by ‘bully’ bosses, secret report reveals

Ontario’s Liberal government has kept secret an explosive report that paints some of its most senior bureaucrats — male and female — as bullies who have harassed and discriminated against hundreds of provincial lawyers and administrative assistants for years.  The workplace for 600 government lawyers and several hundred administrative staff at the Ministry of the Attorney General is described as a “toxic” cesspool where fear and retribution rule the day...

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Publication date : 2018-02-21
Lawyers promise to drag Couillard and Moreau to court

Despite their four-month strike in the middle of the winter, lawyers and public notaries (LANEQ) will have to settle for the lowest wage increase in the entire public service. Unable to agree with Quebec, they promise to drag Philippe Couillard and Pierre Moreau before the courts.

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Publication date : 2017-07-13
Lawyers and Notaries of the Québec State: Predictable Failure of Mandatory Mediation

Quebec lawyers and notaries (LANEQ) react to the disclosure of the report resulting from mandatory mediation with the government under the law. The report concludes that mediation has failed. According to LANEQ, this desolate result was predictable, since the law passed by the government to force the return to work of its members did not allow a real negotiation.

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Publication date : 2017-07-13
A case of no respect?

Striking government lawyers in Quebec were forced back to work. Where does that leave them now? ....LANEQ is still hoping for positive outcomes to a legal challenge it launched against the government’s back-to-work law, as well as an action filed with Quebec’s labour relations board, accusing the government of bargaining in bad faith. One positive thing to come out of the strike, says Desroches-Lapointe, is the strong sense of solidarity that was forged among lawyers. 

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Publication date : 2017-07-10

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Provincial lawyers bargaining tough

By Luis Millan September 14 2012 issue Provincial government lawyers across the country, some of whom have reached new labour deals with their employers, are grappling with inadequate resources, heavier workloads, and in many cases slashed budgets and strained labour relations. Yet in spite of the mounting frustration in some regions over the state of the justice system, some advocates maintain that by bringing attention — bolstered at times with the use of judicious strong-arm tactics — to the issues facing Crown prosecutors and counsel, provincial governments will pay attention, as was recently the case in Manitoba and Quebec. “When we speak as one, it lends credibility to our voice,” said Rick Woodburn, the newly elected president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, a national organization that represents the collective interests of Crown prosecutors and Crown lawyers. “There have always been issues surrounding bargaining and workload,” he stressed. “We didn’t have a voice before, [but now] individual provinces and the federal government are starting to perk up and listen to what we have to say.” That is what seemingly is happening in British Columbia. Labour relations between Crown prosecutors and the B.C. provincial government “turned a significant corner” five years ago when Crown prosecutors signed a 12-year agreement that can be reviewed every four years, says Samiran Lakshman, the president of the B.C. Crown Counsel Association. Salaries, which now range from nearly $70,700 to almost $182,200, are not an issue. Rather, it is the province’s stretched justice system, adds Lakshman. Last February Premier Christy Clark named Vancouver litigator Geoffrey Cowper to lead a review of the B.C. legal system, which has been under fire. A green paper, “Modernizing British Columbia’s Justice System,” published earlier this year highlights a steady decline in crime rates and a dramatic reduction in cases going to the courts, with 13,000 fewer provincial criminal matters heard in 2011 compared to a decade ago. Yet, “problems of cost and delay are appearing in the system in ways which are increasingly inexplicable and unacceptable,” says the green paper. Indeed, more than 100 cases involving criminal charges were stayed last year due to excessive delays, and over 2,400 cases still remain in peril. The legal aid program has been severely underfunded, which has spurred an increase of unrepresented litigants, which in turn provokes more delays, says Lakshman. And while nine new judges were appointed in February, the judiciary is still understaffed. “Unfortunately, the justice system in B.C. has been systematically stripped of essential funding for all justice partners,” notes Lakshman. “As Crown counsel, we do everything we can to make the system work but it is very frustrating to see the system falling apart and not work as it should.” In Nova Scotia, the situation is almost as disheartening, says Woodburn. The Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys Association (NSCAA), which has been without a contract since April 2009, signed a framework agreement last April that will allow the organization to be able to bargain with the provincial government. The agreement, which includes binding arbitration, sidesteps legislation that bars government lawyers employed by the Nova Scotia government from organizing and forming a union. Negotiations are currently underway, and on the table are issues dealing with salary, overtime, indemnification against malicious prosecution, and workload that has reached a bursting point, says Woodburn, who also heads the NSCAA. “I’m worried that there is going to be a mistake that is going to cost somebody their life and end up sitting before an inquiry, because we just don’t have the staff to handle the volume we are getting to do our job properly,” said Woodburn. New Brunswick Crown prosecutors and counsel are also before the negotiating table, jointly working together “towards a single collective agreement,” said Eric Boucher, president of the New Brunswick Crown Counsel Association, which represents 43 members. The collective agreement expired on March 2011, and negotiations are ostensibly at a standstill. Boucher would not comment on the status of the negotiations. But in a press release issued last May by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents some 60,000 professionals and scientists across Canada’s public sector, Boucher is quoted saying that: “Just because the province is trying to tighten up finances by running the public service like a business doesn’t mean that, as an employer, government should be allowed to treat its employees unfairly.” Quebec crown prosecutors and crown counsel had to play hardball before reaching an agreement. In an unprecedented move, Quebec’s 1,500 crown prosecutors and counsel went on strike in February 2011, demanding a 40 per cent salary increase before being forced to return to work two weeks later under back-to-work legislation that gave them a six per cent raise over five years. Months later, in October 2011, the province’s Crown prosecutors reached a deal with the government that gave them a unique, quasi-judicial status, a one-level bump up on the pay scale that could amount to an increase of up to 20 per cent, and incentives for working in special units like the province’s anti-corruption squad. In exchange, Quebec Crown prosecutors lost their right to strike. “We have always said that giving us the right to strike was not a good idea and it took the strike before the government agreed with us,” said Christian Leblanc, the head of the Quebec Association of Crown Attorneys. “The most significant gain in this deal is not the salary increases but the quasi-judicial status we have obtained. Our salaries will now be determined in the same fashion as judges of the Court of Quebec.” Though Quebec Crown counsel reached a tentative agreement last summer, it was only signed by the government a couple of weeks ago. In fact, this past May the 1,000 strong Association des Juristes de l’État (AJE), which represents Quebec government lawyers and notaries, lodged a bad-faith bargaining complaint against the provincial government before Quebec’s labour relations commission. The AJE claimed that the government reneged on a clause in the agreement that promised to put the civil lawyers’ pay on par with criminal prosecutors. But days before the labour relations commission was going to hear the matter, the government signed the deal. “There is no doubt that difficult labour conflicts leave traces,” said AJE’s president Sébastien Rochette. While the new four-year collective agreement hands Quebec Crown counsel a 17.9 per cent increase in salaries, the parties will be going back to the negotiating table over the coming months to discuss new ways to establish salary and working conditions for the next collective agreement. “We no longer want to be at the mercy of our employer,” said Rochette. Manitoba Crown prosecutors and counsel also had to use tough tactics before being heard by the provincial government. In 2006, the Manitoba Association of Crown Attorneys (MACA) filed a grievance over staffing shortages and urged the government to hire 70 additional Crown lawyers and 70 support staff. The union held off going to arbitration in favour of working with the government to find a solution, but when those efforts went nowhere, MACA was set to begin a public arbitration process with the province. As the arbitration process was about to be launched, a deal was reached. The government agreed to add 53 new prosecutors — about a 44 per cent increase — and 29 extra support staff over a six-year period, which should reduce the average caseload of Manitoba prosecutors from about 400 cases to roughly 250. This year alone the provincial government injected $2.5 million in new funding that will be used to hire 11 prosecutors and six additional support staff. “We have issues that are of interest to prosecutors and civil lawyers uniquely and we deal with those,” explained Gord Hannon, a member at large with MACA, which represents both Crown prosecutors and counsel. “But the fact that there is one single organization and that there are so many common interests in terms of salary, conditions of employment, pensions, recruitment and all those things gives us a strong collective voice.”