Nfld. & Labrador

Courts, police take a hit in N.L. budget

The court system and both police forces in Newfoundland and Labrador will get a shakeup as the cash-strapped provincial government trims more than $6 million from the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

Province to close courts in Grand Falls-Windsor, Grand Bank, Harbour Grace and Wabush

Andrew Parsons is Newfoundland and Labrador's attorney general and justice minister. (CBC)

The court system and both police forces in Newfoundland and Labrador will get a shakeup as the cash-strapped provincial government trims more than $6 million and 27 positions from the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

The province will close supreme courts in Grand Falls-Windsor and Grand Bank, reducing the number from six to four.

The number of permanent provincial court locations will drop from 10 to eight, with sites in Harbour Grace and Wabush set to close.

These court closures will result in annualized savings of nearly $1.3 million, and result in the elimination of 17 positions.

The St. John's Status of Women's Council reacted angrily to the news Thursday, stating on Twitter that "closing rural courts will have (a) devastating effect on women experiencing (domestic violence) already burdened by (a) lack of services."

Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons said these were "very difficult" decisions, but added that efficiencies were necessary in the face of challenging economic circumstances.

"My top concern is access to justice. That is the rationale behind these decisions," Parsons said.

The four members of the judiciary affected by the closures will be transferred to other courts.

Police positions won't be filled

Meanwhile, plans to hire an additional 10 Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers this year have been cancelled, and four vacant constable positions will not be filled.

The RCMP will find savings by hiring civilians for four "back-office" positions, Parsons explained.

The province has budgeted roughly $130 million for both police forces, and roughly $13 million for supreme and provincial courts.

Parsons added that work is ongoing to find more efficiencies in the department.

The measures were included in Thursday's belt-tightening 2016-17 provincial budget, which is projecting a deficit of $1.83 billion.

Harbour Grace courthouse repairs not feasible

Parsons explained that Wabush has traditionally had the lowest number of cases per year, while proximity to St. John's and infrastructure challenges in Harbour Grace were deciding factors in the decision to close that court.

The historic courthouse in Harbour Grace needs costly repairs, says the government. (www.hrgrace.ca)

Parsons said it's not feasible to repair the historic court building in Harbour Grace, and pointed to the "significant lease cost" of temporary office space in the town.

He would not rule out a circuit court for these locations, but said any decisions will be made in consultation with the judiciary.

As for supreme court closures, Parsons said the Grand Bank location was "not the busiest of courts," while having a court location in nearby Gander makes it possible to close Grand Falls-Windsor.

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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