September 8, 2017 4:31 pm
Updated: September 15, 2017 10:13 am

Nova Scotia deputy sheriff shortage leads to charges being thrown out in court

The NSGEU says there is a shortage of deputy sheriffs in the province.

Natasha Pace/Global News

The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) says Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government is to blame for a shortage of deputy sheriffs in Nova Scotia courtrooms.

The sharp criticism comes after two recent incidents involving deputy sheriffs – both of which took place at Dartmouth Provincial Court.

Charges thrown out because of delays 

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On Aug. 31, Judge Daniel MacRury stayed charges of shoplifting against a man and a woman who were co-accused in the same incident – after there were delays in bringing the two accused to the courtroom.

In an audio recording obtained by Global News, MacRury can be heard asking why there is a delay to a deputy sheriff and warned that a supervisor would be charged with contempt of court if he did not appear to explain things. After a short break in court proceedings, the recordings resumed, and the supervisor simply told the Judge, “Your honour, I have no staff.”

MacRury told the court that sheriffs had an hour and a half to bring the co-accused to the courtroom and ordered a judicial stay. MacRury could also be heard saying “these charges or these people are going to start being released unless you do your job.”

READ: Reducing deputy sheriff staffing would risk safety of staff, public: NSGEU

A week later, on Sept. 7, Judge Frank Hoskins also questioned similar delays, telling the court that under the Court Officials Act he could ask for police to help the deputy sheriffs.

“I’m not going to delay the court for hours,” Hoskins could be heard saying on an audio recording. “If you don’t have enough people, you can’t fulfill the requirements, then under that act, I’m going to invoke it and ask the Halifax Regional Police to assist you.”

NSGEU blames Liberals for sheriff shortage

Jason MacLean, NSGEU president, said Friday that the lack of deputy sheriffs in courtrooms is the responsibility of Stephen McNeil and “any blame should be placed squarely on his shoulders and those of his government.”

“It’s Premier McNeil and Justice Minister Mark Furey who should be held in contempt, not the individual who is doing the best they can with the insufficient resources they have been given,” said MacLean.

According to the union, adequate staffing of Deputy Sheriffs has been an issue they have been raising for years and one that the government has failed to address.

The NSGEU says proper staffing is necessary to protect people in the courtroom where issues and violence can and do arise.

“The Barrington Report, a staffing analysis, was completed last fall but the McNeil Government refused to release the details. Eventually obtained through FOIPOP, the report included numerous staffing recommendations,” said MacLean. “Nothing has been done to implement them.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia looking to buy body scanners to cut down on goods smuggled into jails

Government says safety a “top priority”

Sarah Gillis, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice says “the safety and security of inmates, our staff and those who use our court rooms is our top priority.”

“We regret the delays that took place at Dartmouth Provincial Court recently and have since taken steps to ensure that it does not continue,” said Gillis.

“We are working closely with Dartmouth Provincial Court to ensure adequate staffing levels exist at all times and have contingency plans in place to address unexpected absences. Sheriff Services recently hired 23 new staff across the province; 6 of those employees have been appointed to the HRM. There are also plans to recruit and hire more staff later this year.”

WATCH: Chaos erupts at Halifax courthouse after Carvel Clayton appearance

MacLean says the number of Deputy Sheriffs continue to decline in courtrooms across the province.

“Government’s assertion that they’ve hired 23 casual Deputy Sheriffs does not address the real gaps that are having a negative impact on our justice system. Especially when you consider the Barrington Report recommended hiring 67 full time frontline staff.”

The NSGEU says they are glad to see Judges are speaking up. However, they say blaming Deputy Sheriffs is not the answer.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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