Hours after Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said that he believes Global News “fell victim to a rumour mill and ran with the story a little too premature,” a woman says she is “disgusted” to hear that he is denying his ministry issued a directive to stop providing facial tissues for victims and witnesses in courtrooms across the province.
“That contradicts what we were told on Monday,” Stephanie Walters, a disability support worker in Three Hills, Alta., told Global News on Wednesday night.
“He’s lying. He’s flat out lying.”
After speaking with Walters, Global News reached out to Schweitzer’s press secretary Wednesday night for comment on what she says she was told in court this week.
Just after noon on Thursday, a reply came from an official in the justice ministry’s resolution and court administration services department.
“As confirmed yesterday, witnesses testifying in Alberta courtrooms will continue to be provided with water and tissues by clerks – this has not and will not change,” Mary MacDonald, an assistant deputy minister of justice, said in the email.
“It appears that inaccurate information was mistakenly shared at the courthouse without the knowledge of the department.
“The continued availability of water and tissues is being clarified with court staff to reassure witnesses and those who support them that water and tissues will continue to be available as they always have been and to ensure that no potential mistakes happen again.”
On Tuesday, Global News reported Alberta Justice will not be supplying people in courtrooms with water or tissues, effective immediately, based on information provided by several sources.
Sources told Global News the reason for the directive was to save money and that it will result in victims, police, prosecutors and defence lawyers being required to supply their own tissues and water.
On Wednesday morning, Schweitzer’s office issued a statement to Global News, saying “tissues will still be provided to witnesses and water to both witnesses and the judiciary. This has — and will not — change.”
“Water coolers for lawyers will be removed from individual courtrooms and lawyers will be responsible for providing their own water or can have filtered water available in water fountains, in the kitchen and in break areas,” the statement read. “Removing water coolers for lawyers in courtrooms will save Alberta courts approximately $50,000.”
Speaking to Global News in Victoria, B.C. on Wednesday night, where he is attending the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety, Schweitzer was asked if he stands by his previous statement that there was no directive to remove the tissues.
“Tissues and water are still going to be available in the province of Alberta for witnesses and judges,” he said. “I think that Global just fell victim to a rumour mill and ran with the story a little too premature.”
When asked again about the tissues and how one source told Global News tissues had already been removed from at least one courtroom, Schweitzer reiterated that tissues will still be provided in courtrooms and that the only change would be lawyers now needing to bring their own water into courtrooms.
“There’s fountains there — go get a big gulp — get a cup for yourself and bring it into the courtroom,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking for in the province of Alberta, not sure where you got your story but you should double-check your sources.”
Schweitzer then removed his microphone and walked away from his interview with Global News.
Walters said she was confused by Schweitzer saying that was the only change being brought in by Alberta Justice because she was told that as of Feb. 3, there would be “no food or drinks in the courtroom except that provided by the court.” She added that she was told at her court preparation session Monday that those rules apply to lawyers as well.
“So how are the lawyers supposed to bring water in if it’s not provided by the court?”
Walters added that while having the court make tissues available for victims may seem like a minor issue, she believes it’s important to maintain the supply.
“For the victims… these individuals are reliving past experiences and facing the person that they’ve been traumatized by.”
Listen below: Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer joins Global News Radio’s Danielle Smith.
Walters said that she understands the need for the province to cut costs since the economy is struggling, but that she believes changes to what is provided in courtrooms is not the right thing to do.
“Maybe they should look at themselves… not just the UCP, but also other political parties and their overspending and their wages,” she said.
–With files from Global News’ Kaylen Small and Nancy Hixt
Listen below: Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer joins 630 CHED’s J’lyn Nye.