N.S. Crown attorneys give strike notice in protest of government changes

N.S. Crown attorneys to walk off the job

Crown attorneys in Nova Scotia say they’re walking off the job on Wednesday in response to the province introducing legislation that would take away their right to arbitration.

The changes to the Crown Attorneys’ Labour Relations Act override the current framework agreement and give prosecutors the right to strike while requiring that they provide essential services.

“This is not an action we want to take, but we feel the province has left us with no choice. Bill 203 takes away our right to binding arbitration and threatens the functioning of the judicial system,” stated Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys’ Association president Perry Borden.

“We can’t negotiate with a party that breaks its agreements. The province caused this dispute and the province can end it.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia to eliminate right to arbitration for Crown attorneys

The NSCAA says the legislation “guts the existing collective agreement between prosecutors and their employer” and feels the province has negotiated in bad faith.

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The association says it will maintain prosecution services for urgent serious criminal offences and that it has informed the Public Prosecution Service of its intent for job action.

“I wish to make it perfectly clear that we did not ask for any of this,” Borden said. “Last week, the government changed the game. Last week, they made the playing field unfair.”

Rick Woodburn, a lead negotiator for the Nova Scotia’s Crown prosecutors’ union, said last week that a strike could mean criminal cases ranging from murder to sexual assault would be dropped. Borden says he is unsure of how many files will fall through the cracks, but the job action will create a significant number of coverage issues.

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“It will be on the province essentially to decide what trials are going to proceed and what trials can’t proceed,” he said.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has said the changes are necessary because the province can’t afford what the Crown attorneys are asking for. McNeil says in the event of job action, the province will continue to seek out ways to ensure justice is delivered.

READ MORE: N.S. premier defends bill withdrawing Crown prosecutors’ arbitration rights

Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston said the job action is the result of McNeil breaking a contract and “trying to ram a piece of legislation through the House.”

“I think the Crowns are just feeling a little backed in the corner,” said Houston. “They’re doing important work on behalf of the province and I think it’s unfair (the way) the premier picks one soundbite and tries to stick to it.”

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NDP justice critic Claudia Chender says it will be “terrifying” to not have 80 per cent of Nova Scotia Crown attorneys not showing up to court on Wednesday. 

“I think it’s really unfortunate that we find ourselves with yet another group of dedicated public servants who have been backed into a corner by this government,” Chender said, “and are being forced to use any tactic at their disposal to let the public know and let the legislators know just how heinous this situation is.” 

With files from the Canadian Press and Jeremy Keefe.