Quebec government lawyers strike

Quebec's legal system is expected to come to a near halt Tuesday as about 1,500 government lawyers, including 450 Crown prosecutors, are on strike a day after last-minute talks failed.

Crown prosecutors asking for pay increase of about 40%

Quebec's legal system is expected to come to a near halt Tuesday as about 1,500 government lawyers, including 450 Crown prosecutors, are on strike a day after last-minute talks failed.

Crown prosecutors demonstrate in front of Quebec's hall of justice Tuesday, the first day of a strike that promises to bring the province's justice system to a near standstill. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Hearings and trials for people already in detention will proceed, but thousands of other cases will be put on hold.

The strike could also stall business at the Quebec national assembly because many lawyers who have walked off the job had been responsible for writing the laws.

Protests were taking place in both Quebec and Montreal.

The Crown Prosecutors Association has said its lawyers are overworked and underpaid compared to colleagues in other provinces, causing what they say is the longest backlog of cases in the country.

Quebec prosecutors are the lowest paid in Canada, topping out at about $102,000 a year. Their Ontario counterparts earn as much as $196,000 annually.

'We never asked for a strike, we don't want a strike,' J.D. Gerols of the Crown Prosecutors Association says about Quebec lawyers walking off the job Tuesday. ((CBC))

The lawyers are asking for 200 new positions and a pay increase of about 40 per cent. They say they have no choice but to walk off the job.

Prosecutors had the right to strike forced upon them in 2003 by the Charest government as a way to avoid binding arbitration.

"We never asked for a strike, we don't want a strike," said association spokesman J.D. Gerols.

The province has said prosecutors will have to lower their pay expectations if they expect to reach a contract settlement.

"It's obvious that the government, if it wants to be fair toward all its employees and take into consideration what taxpayers can afford, won't be able to give 40 per cent," Treasury Board president Michelle Courchesne said Monday.

The Crown prosecutors have been ordered by the province's Essential Services Council to be present at trials where a jury has been selected and when there are requests for trial delays.

Quebec's Crown prosecutors, a couple of whom are shown protesting in 2002, received the right to strike in 2003 because the government refused binding arbitration.

Government lawyers agreed to attend all cases dealing with health and security.

About 50 of the 450 Crown prosecutors were expected to work Tuesday.

CBC News reporter Steve Rukavina stepped into a Montreal courtroom Tuesday and saw a case delayed because the prosecutor was a fill-in and not familiar with the file. The defence laywer asked for a delay, which was accepted by the judge.

On Monday, defence lawyer Debora DeThomasis said 80 per cent of files will be stalled, and she stimated delays could stretch to three years, leading to charter motions for unreasonable delays.

"That is very lengthy and very costly for everyone," she said. 

Negotiations between the lawyers and government began last spring.

With files from The Canadian Press