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Province files motion for injunction to end Nova Scotia Crown attorney strike

WATCH: Most of Nova Scotia’s Crown attorneys walked off the job on Wednesday, with a negotiator for the prosecutors’ union predicting “chaos” in courtrooms across the province. Alicia Draus has more.

The Nova Scotia government says it has filed a notice of action and motion for an injunction in Nova Scotia Supreme Court that would force Crown attorneys in the province back to the courtroom.

Most of the province’s Crown attorneys walked off the job on Wednesday in response to the province introducing legislation that would take away their right to arbitration.

In a news release, the province said it did “everything we could to get a deal with the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys’ Association” but that the association refused to bend.

“Our government values Crown attorneys and the important work they do across the province, but this is an illegal strike and they can’t just walk off the job,” Premier Stephen McNeil stated.

“This is about protecting the public safety of Nova Scotians and ensuring our court system continues to function.”

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The government says the move is “necessary to maintain its fiscal plan and ensure the sustainability of public services.”

Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys’ Association (NSCAA) lead negotiator Rick Woodburn says the province breached its contract, leaving the NSCAA in a legal strike position.

“The premier does not have to go through more heavy-handed actions in order to put you back to work,” Woodburn said in response to the proposed injunction. “All he has to do is honour his original agreement.”

N.S. Crown attorneys to walk off the job
N.S. Crown attorneys to walk off the job

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

According to Woodburn, about 20 of the province’s 100 prosecutors will remain on the job to handle murder cases, sexual assaults and other serious crimes.

However, Woodburn says routine cases won’t have prosecutors available through the day, and he doubted replacements would be available.

Perry Borden, president of the NSCAA said that a cases of domestic violence, impaired driving, assault, threats and fraud had been tossed out earlier on Wednesday.

“I don’t think that’s going to be unique during this protest. I think cases throughout the province are going to be thrown out.” Said Borden.

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McNeil has said the legislation is necessary because the province can’t afford the salary increases sought by prosecutors.

The Crown attorneys are seeking a 17 per cent raise over four years, which is higher than an established wage pattern set for the public sector.

The province is offering a seven per cent increase over four years.

Nova Scotia changing labour negotiating rules for its Crown attorneys
Nova Scotia changing labour negotiating rules for its Crown attorneys

But Borden says Crown attorneys are currently overworked and underpaid, arguing that the government was not willing to negotiate with them.

“There’s a misconception that all of us out here are making $150,000 a year. There are a lot of Crown attorneys making $65,000 a year,” he said.

Crown attorneys are seeing support from other unions, with both the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union and the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union showing their support at the picket lines Wednesday morning.

Even defence attorneys joined the group to show their support.

“The (Crown attorneys) deserve a raise,” said defence lawyer Thomas Singleton. “Their work is extremely hard, and in my opinion, the government is treating them unfairly, unjustly, and it’s basically a stab in the back.”

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

NDP Leader Gary Burrill also stopped by the picket line to show his support. He says there was an agreement in place for prosecutors to go to arbitration and the government resorted to legislation when they decided arbitration was no longer convenient for them.

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“The primary thing, I think, is that this is immoral, and it is a wrong and untrustworthy way for a government to conduct itself towards its own employees,” Burrill said.

Borden says NSCAA members will continue to strike for as long as they have to.

“We want to go back [to work] today, not tomorrow,” he said, “But the government has forced us to take the position that we have.”

With files from the Canadian Press