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Crown prosecutors bitter as work resumes

Quebec Crown prosecutors returned to work Tuesday afternoon embittered and angry after their historic strike was struck down by a special law.
Quebec Crown prosecutors wait to return to work at the courthouse Tuesday. ((Canadian Press))

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Quebec Crown prosecutors returned to work Tuesday afternoon embittered and angry after their historic strike was struck down  by a special law.

The Liberal government adopted back-to-work legislation for public prosecutors and lawyers early Tuesday morning after debate dragged through the night.

The imposed contract represents "a very sad day" for Quebec's judicial system, said Christian Leblanc, head of the province's Association of Crown Prosecutors.

The law imposed a settlement that includes a six per cent pay raise and some measures to recruit 80 new staff across the province.

It falls short of what prosecutors demanded when they walked off the job two weeks ago to protest against their working conditions, case backlog and remuneration.

The deal did nothing either to clear the acrimony that had built up between the province and prosecutors in their unprecedented two-week strike.

"We've done everything to legally convince our government to invest in this essential institution," Leblanc said.

The new contract will discourage lawyers from considering public service, he warned.

Several chief and assistant chief prosecutors tendered their resignation upon learning details of the new contract.

The government refused to accept them.

Prosecutors worry about low morale

Montreal prosecutor Sonia Lebel returned to her courthouse office Tuesday frowning.

She's proud of her job, but said she feels betrayed by the government she serves and is thinking of quitting.

"I'm not telling you that I'm going to do that right away. I still have a life to preserve. But it's the first time in 20 years that I'm very serious about that."

Lawyers are concerned low morale will exacerbate backlogs in the system.

"The criminals are maybe the only people really happy about what's happening right now," Lebel said. "We gave them a Crown that's not equipped to fight them."

Quebec's Bar Association echoed that concern, suggesting Tuesday that organized crime groups may try to exploit Quebec's weakened justice system.

The lawyers' strike, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, shackled the justice system as a skeleton staff of prosecutors and lawyers scrambled to provide essential services.

With files from the Canadian Press