It’s official. Quebec’s 1,500 government lawyers, who include about 450 Crown prosecutors, went on strike today, saying they are underpaid and overworked.
The strike, a rare occurrence in Canada, will likely have crippling effects for the province’s courts. It will also affect government institutions and legislation.
Members of the Quebec Crown prosecutors’ association (Association des procureurs aux poursuites criminelles et pénales) and the Quebec civil lawyers’ and notaries’ association (Association des juristes de l’État) had approved the strike action a few days ago. It was triggered after last-minute negotiations with the government failed last night.
The association representing Quebec’s 450 Crown prosecutors says the solution is to offer steep pay increases of up to 40 per cent to bring Quebec in line with other North American jurisdictions and hire 200 new attorneys to deal with the high workload. Salaries for these lawyers are capped at around $100,000 and start at a low of $44,000.
Quebec Crown attorneys have had the right to strike since 2003. As the strike goes on, the associations have apparently reached an agreement with Quebec’s essential services council to staff specific cases, which means 50 prosecutors out of 450 will continue to work.
“Quebec Crowns have suffered under wage freezes and cutbacks that have been in place since 2003, resulting in their being the lowest paid in Canada and their caseloads becoming unmanageable,” says a statement by the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, which has thrown its support behind the Quebec associations.
In a video statement, association president Jamie Chaffe called on the Quebec government to meet the demands of prosecutors. “The predicament of the Quebec prosecutors ought to be considered a national embarrassment,” he said.
But the demands are too rich for the Quebec government’s coffers, Michelle Courchesne, Quebec Treasury Board president told the Toronto Star. “It’s clear that in fairness to the rest of the employees of the state and to the ability of taxpayers to pay . . . we can’t reach 40 per cent.”