Manitoba Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh says he understands the frustration of the province's top judges over construction delays at the new French-language court building in St. Boniface.
The judges have taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the provincial government for failing to provide a proper French-language court facility. They are refusing to move hearings into a space on Des Meurons Street.
Chief Justice Richard Chartier, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Court of Queen's Bench and Chief Judge Ken Champagne of the provincial court announced on Wednesday that all hearings slated to be held in St. Boniface will be heard in the Law Courts on York Avenue instead.
French-language court services are being evicted from the St. Boniface Court building at 227 Provencher Blvd. on Friday, and the judges say a new location on 614 Des Meurons St. is "in its current state, wholly inadequate."
Not only does the Des Meurons Street building have other tenants that are expected to stay there for a "number of weeks," but the facility "raises unavoidable issues of security, privacy and confidentiality" and "in no way resembles a location able or meant to ensure the dignity and decorum associated with judicial proceedings," the judges wrote in a letter to Mackintosh dated Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the judges wrote that it appears that construction and renovation to the promised new court house "has hardly commenced."
However, Mackintosh said French-language court services are not being compromised in St. Boniface.
"This Friday, the front desk will be finished and so the services in terms of filing and information will be continuing. But there's an eight-week delay that was unexpected in getting the courtroom finished," he told CBC News late Wednesday.
"So we're going to bear down. It's been frustrating for everybody."
Mackintosh said the renovations will make the court building a state-of-the-art facility with five courtrooms and "strong bilingual services."
All of the work is expected to be completed in 18 months, he said.
The Court of Queen's Bench will continue to operate the St. Boniface Registry at the Des Meurons Street building, but all civil, criminal, family, child protection matters that were scheduled to be held there will now be heard at the courthouse on York Avenue. Small claims hearings will be heard at the courthouse and at 373 Broadway.
In a February 2014 media notice announcing the closure of the St. Boniface Court building, the same justices noted that the Manitoba Act "entrenches certain constitutional duties" on the provincial government to protect "the substantive rights of all Manitobans to equal access to the law in either the French or English language."
Read the justice's letter to Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh below: