Imposed settlement leaves bitter taste

Days after the Quebec government enacted back-to-work legislation that compelled striking Crown prosecutors and government lawyers, a movement appears to be afoot to mollify the rancorous atmosphere reigning between the principle actors of the province’s justice system.

It’s not going to be easy.

Louis Dionne, director of criminal and penal prosecutions, met with Quebec’s chief prosecutors and assistant chief prosecutors, the majority of whom asked for reassignment in a show of support with striking lawyers, for a five-hour stretch in Quebec City. Dionne, who refused to grant the reassignments, described the meeting as being “constructive.” He also admitted that the Quebec Crown is in need of “oxygen.”

But for many it’s too little, too late. The association representing Quebec crown prosecutors called for Dionne’s resignation, saying he should have spoken up during the labour conflict, and not after the back-to-work legislation was adopted. “Crown prosecutors do not understand, and are even angry, that their boss did not publicly come to their defence at a time when the Quebec criminal justice system was living through its worst crisis,” told me Christian Leblanc, the head of the Quebec crown prosecutors association.

The imposed settlement has been harshly criticized by Quebec’s legal community. One lawyer told me that lawyers – and judges — are discouraged by the turn of events. Another said that, while he is optimistic by nature, he is pessimistic that things will get better, adding that successive Quebec governments have paid little heed to the administration of justice.

In a letter to its 23,000 members, the head of the legal society the Barreau du Québec, said that the government has ruptured the bond of trust with public sector lawyers by enacting back-to-work legislation – a rebuke that a former Barreau administrator described as being too little, too late.

Morale is low, and the repercussions will likely reverberate throughout the corridors of justice for quite some time. Unless the Quebec government has a change of heart and begins to seriously address issues that need to be grappled with, assert legal observers, the very same that say that it is not likely.

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