Itching for justice

The barristers’ lounge at Vancouver’s 222 Main St. provincial courthouse is a lonely place these days.

“It’s been empty ever since it happened,” says defence lawyer Chris Johnson of Johnson Doricic Doyle Sugarman.

The event he’s referring to was the discovery last week of a bedbug infestation in the lawyers’ lounge at one of the court’s Downtown Eastside area locations.

“You don’t want to hang your coat up, or put your briefcase down in there. I think it will take a few more days at least, and probably more, before people go back. It’s pretty disgusting,” Johnson tells Legal Feeds.

And it’s not just in the lounge where habits have changed. Lawyers and their clients are even more eager than usual to get out of the busy 307 courtroom, one of three where remediation treatments were carried out, according to a provincial government official.

“Nobody wants to sit down or linger in there. I just hang on to my briefcase,” says Johnson.

The lawyer has spent more than a decade on a cleanliness committee at the courthouse, where suspicions about bedbugs have been repeatedly raised, but never confirmed, until now.

“Given where the court is and the type of people who come there, it’s not a big surprise. Bedbugs are a big problems in hotels on the Downtown Eastside, but the extent of it was a surprise,” he says.

Now he hopes the bedbug shock will spur investment from the province in preventative measures.

“We’re hoping this will draw some action out of them. It took us two years to get hand cleaners in the building,” says Johnson.

Kevin Jardine, the assistant deputy minister for court services in the Ministry of Justice, says inspectors were sent into the Main Street location after bedbugs were discovered in December at the nearby Downtown Community Courthouse. The barristers’ lounge and other affected areas underwent treatment, with .

Jardine says no scheduled hearings have been affected, but he understands users’ discomfort with the situation.

“Discussion of bedbugs tends to elicit scratching whether or not they’re actually present. We’re moving aggressively to treat and eliminate them from the entire facility,” he says. “It’s obviously very unpleasant, but we’re comforted by the fact that they aren’t a public health hazard, and they don’t transmit diseases.”

Jardine says furniture and carpets will also be removed from the courthouses in an effort to stop future infestations, and information sessions will be put on for court users.

The first is tomorrow lunchtime at the Main Street courthouse, when a pest control expert will deliver a talk on “everything you did (and didn’t) want to know about bedbugs.”

“Topics discussed will include identification, what and where to look for signs, preventing their spread, treatment, etc,” says a notice sent to people who work at the two affected buildings.

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