Pierre Saint-Arnaud, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL – All cases involving legal aid lawyers in five Quebec regions on Tuesday morning were returned in the afternoon, causing traffic jams following a half -day strike by these lawyers from the state.
“Now, the goal is to put a little bit of sand in the gears. It’s not going to make some judges and other players in the justice system happy and that’s not our goal, but it’s the only way for us to be heard. This is how the president of the Montreal and Laval legal aid lawyers union, Me Justine Lambert-Boulianne, the gesture of her members in the forecourt of the Montreal courthouse, while parking, holding placards, lawyers in gowns.
The layoffs affected the regions of Montreal, Laval, Laurentides, Lanaudière, Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie, the regions where CSN members are legal aid lawyers. They make up about half of the approximately 400 legal aid attorneys across the province.
These lawyers first set up pickets in front of legal aid offices in their region and then gathered at courthouses in their regions to show up at lunch time.
They have had no employment contract since Dec. 31, 2019 and are protesting against the Treasury Board’s refusal to maintain equality with Quebec Crown prosecutors.
“We have had equality with Crown prosecutors for 30 years. In some collective agreements it is firmly stated in a trailer clause. In the final collective agreement, the salary dimensions are still the same, ”argued Me Lambert-Boulianne.
“What we want is only a renewal, we only want to keep our gains.”
Legal aid members find it difficult to understand this volte-face on the part of the employer. “We have no explanation. This is part of the failures we have today. They didn’t even come over and sit at the negotiating table to explain to us. The last salary offer we have is dated from the beginning of the year.
Fighting this arm wrestling can cost the state significantly in the long run. Salary conditions for Crown prosecutors are recommended by an independent committee. However, this three-person committee submitted two reports: one, with a majority, recommended an increase of approximately 20% over four years; one, a minority, recommended 10% over four years, which Quebec agreed to.
“The crown prosecutors are in the Court of Appeal,” explained Me Lambert-Boulianne. They dispute the minority report. Prosecutors are working their way into the judicial system and it can go to the Supreme Court and it will take several years.
“In the meantime, an agreement has been reached between the prosecutors and the government to the effect that they would at least have the minority report,” she explained.
At the same time, Quebec submitted to legal aid lawyers the same increases as those offered in public service, namely 6% over three years.
The union president recalled in the passage that “Minister (of Justice, Simon) Jolin-Barrette has set up a package of projects in the field of justice in recent months. He has a lot to do, but he can’t injecting the necessary amounts of land into the key actors of the judicial system.
Me Lambert-Boulianne argues that its members are the first to prioritize these files, which nevertheless qualify as priorities, such as youth rights, domestic or sexual violence or advocacy against change.
“Without us, a weak person has no access to the justice system.
“And it’s completely incoherent to think that they can improve courthouse hours, as they promised, without putting money where it’s needed, without paying their actors into the justice system.”
Me Lambert-Boulianne believes the time has come for Minister Jolin-Barrette to intervene, as Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel seems unwilling to budge.
He recalled that ministers Sonia LeBel and Simon Jolin-Barrette, both lawyers, had come out in favor of pay equality between legal aid lawyers and Crown prosecutors in the past.
“I am Sonia LeBel is a Crown prosecutor. He has always appreciated the work of legal aid lawyers. In 2018, when he was still in opposition, he spoke in favor of parity. Same thing for Mr. Jolin Barrette and now there is silence on the radio. They refused to keep their word.
CSN union members unanimously voted in favor of a three-day strike order and further layoffs could not be lifted in the coming weeks. These attorneys are not subject to the Essential Services Act.