Several weeks after the Quebec government enacted back-to-work legislation that compelled striking Crown prosecutors and government lawyers, two Quebec Crown prosecutors have submitted their resignation, the beginning of what some fear may prove to a mass exodus.
Charles Levasseur, a crown prosecutor who handled many high-profile cases, notably the case dealing with former Quebec Court of Appeal judge Jacques Delisle accused of murdering his wife, is stepping down. He said that while other factors came into play, the labour conflict “probably” precipitated his decision to work for the law firm Thibault Roy Avocats. “The last conflict was difficult. It made me realize that the Crown will never be the same, and my motivation will never the same. That is the impact of the back-to-work legislation,” said Levasseur in an interview with a French-language legal website.
That is likely a sign of things to come, fears Gilles Ouimet, the head of the Barreau du Québec.
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.
The Quebec government is in the midst of tabling back-to-work legislation to end the two-week dispute with provincial crown prosecutors and government lawyers. It appears that Bill 135 will hand lawyers working in the public domain a six per cent increase until 2015, a far cry from the 40 per cent hike sought by crown prosecutors and government lawyers in order to attain parity with provincial and federal colleagues.
In riposte, senior crown prosecutors are resigning from their management positions. Claude Chartrand, Quebec’s chief organized crime prosecutor, set the balling rolling when he tendered his resignation — and so far ten 40 out of of his 50 colleagues followed suit today. More are expected.
In his letter of resignation to Louis Dionne, director of criminal and penal prosecutions, Chartrand said the province does not have enough prosecutors to proceed against 155 Hells Angels members charged with money laundering in the wake of Operation SharQC, a police crackdown on the biker gang. The SharQC legal team is composed of ten crown prosecutors, a figure that is supposed to be 16.
In the meantime, the provincial legal society, Barreau du Quebec, has denounced the back-to-work legislation.
Tomorrow the Quebec government and lawyers on the public payroll, who launched a strike two days ago, will sit at the table before a mediator.
The last time round, when government lawyers negotiated with the Conseil du tresor, the government body that controls the purse strings, only minor issues were settled over the course of six sessions with a mediator, Marc Lajoie, head of the Association des juristes de l’État (AJE), told me.
Quebec Crown prosecutors never even got that far. They negotiated with the help of a conciliator, someone with less powers to forge an agreement than a mediator.
Crown prosecutors want above all binding arbitration. It’s something that they wanted for years, to no avail. They were granted the right to strike by the provincial government in 2003 — something they never asked for and never wanted, said Christian Leblanc, head of the Quebec crown counsel association (APCPPQ).
Thestrike is beginning to have an impact. At least four individuals in three different cases have been acquitted since the strike began two days ago, and the walkout appears to be the culprit. A Toronto man facing speeding charges was acquitted as were two men accused of theft, and a 41-year old woman accused of attempted murder. The Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales, the government body that oversees Crown prosecutors, is contemplating appealing.
Exasperated that labour negotiations with the Quebec government are at a standstill, provincial crown prosecutors and government lawyers have joined forces to launch a general strike that will likely cripple the province’s justice system — unless there is a striking turnabout in the government’s seemingly unyielding stance.