Nova Scotia

Crown attorneys to challenge letters of reprimand over October walkout

A judicial review has been requested on behalf of 61 Crown attorneys who walked off the job in October. They each received a letter calling their behavior "insubordinate and unprofessional" from the Nova Scotia public service commissioner.

Judicial review requested on the Nova Scotia public service commissioner's decision-making authority

A judicial review has been requested on behalf of 61 Crown attorneys who walked off the job in October. They each received a letter calling their behaviour "insubordinate and unprofessional" from the Nova Scotia public service commissioner. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Sixty-one Nova Scotia Crown attorneys who walked off the job in October to protest legislation revoking their right to binding arbitration are challenging the discipline against them.

Each Crown received a letter in April from Laura Lee Langley, Nova Scotia's public service commissioner, that will go into each of their personnel folders. The letters were made public this week.

The Crowns are seeking a judicial review of the discipline.

While each letter is unique to each lawyer, the general script is the same.

"This behaviour is considered insubordinate and unprofessional; it is unacceptable and must not reoccur," reads part of the letter.

"Additionally, as a civil servant, you owe a duty of loyalty to your employer and are expected to support the efforts of our elected government to develop and implement law and public policy.

"Instead actions of the [Nova Scotia Crown Attorney Association] were harmful to the trust and confidence of elected officials and the citizens we serve."

The letter from Langley goes on to say: "I have determined that written discipline is warranted under the circumstances."

The letter also notes hours the Crowns were absent without leave "will be deducted from your pay."

No authority to discipline

The lawyer for the Crowns argues Langley has no authority to discipline them.

In an email to CBC News, Gail L. Gatchalian of Pink Larkin said the tone of the letters is "disrespectful and insulting."

"To suggest that a lawyer, and in particular a Crown Attorney, is unprofessional is a very serious accusation," Gatchalian said.

"Every one of these Crown Attorneys is a professional and at all times conducted themselves in an appropriate and professional manner."

Gatchalian said the letter also failed to acknowledge "the only reason" why the Crowns did not attend work Oct. 23-25. 

In the middle of collective bargaining, the association had indicated it would be sending its dispute to interest arbitration, she said.

In that time, the government introduced Bill 203, the bill that would deny the Crowns' right to binding arbitration. The bill passed but the government decided to not proclaim it into law.

Nova Scotia Crown attorneys went on strike for several days last October to protest legislation that would have removed their contractual right to binding arbitration. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

"Government gave no advanced warning to the Association of its intention to introduce the legislation," Gatchalian said.

"Instead of bargaining in good faith, government used its legislative hammer to take away a promise it had made in the previous round of collective bargaining to grant the Crown Attorneys the right to interest arbitration for 30 years in exchange for their agreement to the government's desired wage restraint."

Further, Gatchalian said the Crowns told the Public Prosecution Service, their employer, about the walkout in advance to protest the bill and also made arrangements with their managers and the courts to ensure public safety was upheld.

She said it's "disappointing" the commission would "issue such inflammatory letters that impugn the professionalism of Crown Attorneys" when both sides ended up successfully concluding a collective agreement and "appeared ready to move forward in good faith."

Gatchalian noted these letters "are particularly shocking" because the Crowns had received an apology from Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey.

Relationship set back 'considerably'

"The letters have set back the relationship considerably, and demonstrate deplorable labour relations, especially so given that the letters were placed on their personnel files in the midst of a global pandemic and a state of emergency," Gatchalian said.

The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service as well as Nova Scotia Public Service Commission declined to provide a comment for this story because it's a matter before the courts.

The applicants for the Crowns are scheduled to appear before a judge in chambers at the Law Courts in Halifax on July 30. They plan to make a motion for an order giving directions for the judicial review, including the date and time for a hearing.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

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