Courthouse open, but QB office closing

Weyburn’s Queen’s Bench office and sheriff’s office will be closed as of the new year, but the city’s historic Court House will remain open, and provincial court will continue to be held here.
The city’s lawyers association have expressed concerns about this closure, and in regard to the loss of the sheriff’s positions, the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) have expressed concerns that this will affect security at the court house.
“The decision to close a registry office is difficult,” said Jordan Jackle, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, indicating the registry office and sheriff’s office at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Weyburn will be closed. Those services will be moved and delivered from Estevan.
As a result of these changes, two positions are being cut, and one position is being offered a transfer to Estevan.
The cut to the Queen’s Bench office and sheriff’s office is a cost-cutting measure, in part due to the low volume of cases heard in the QB court, said Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA Dustin Duncan, noting that of 400 cases heard in QB court in Saskatchewan, only two of them were in Weyburn.
“The amount of cases that started here in Weyburn was about one per cent of the cases. It really just came down to volume of QB cases,” said Duncan.
The Weyburn bar association will be consulted about the closure of the higher court, as the association has sent their concerns to the Ministry of Justice, he added, including concerns about the possible impact to their law practices in Weyburn.
The provincial government is misinforming the public, and trying to downplay the risks involved in cutting deputy sheriff positions, according to SGEU.
Government is cutting the jobs of 12 workers in courthouses around Saskatchewan. In recent media reports, Justice Minister Gord Wyant has claimed those staff were unarmed, and that replacing them with unarmed private contractors will not reduce courthouse security.
According to information provided to SGEU, this is incorrect. While the positions cut from the Weyburn courthouse are unarmed administrative jobs, the other nine positions being terminated belong to deputy sheriffs of court security. These deputy sheriffs are highly-trained, carefully-screened individuals who carry firearms as a job requirement.
The provincial government’s competency profile for the deputy sheriff of court security position specifies that “deputy sheriffs are required to carry firearms for all duties not directly involving contact with prisoners … The ability to use a firearm is a required qualification of the position as deputy sheriffs have the responsibility to intervene in situations where lethal force is required to protect life.”
“Deputy sheriffs of court security are trained, screened, and equipped to very high standards. They can ensure that any safety threat at a courthouse is dealt with quickly and effectively,” said SGEU President Bob Bymoen. “To suggest that their work can be contracted out to the lowest bidder, without court security being compromised, shows a lack of understanding of the vital work these sheriffs do.”
The need for well-trained and well-equipped court security staff has long been recognized by the Ministry of Justice. According to media reports, individuals regularly attempt to enter Saskatchewan courthouses with knives and other weapons. Some have attempted to enter courthouses while carrying replica firearms.
SGEU also questions the wisdom of turning security work over to contractors to save money, when government isn’t even aware of what the costs will be. Wyant told the Leader-Post recently that he didn’t “want to give any general numbers, but [the savings] wouldn’t be certainly in the millions dollars.”
“The Ministry of Justice is making a decision that will definitely reduce security in our courts, based on the assumption that it will save some small, unknown amount of money,” said Bymoen. “There is a definite cost, in terms of safety, to these cuts. How can they decide the savings justify the risk when they don’t even have the numbers available, and don’t appear to understand the job they’re replacing?”
“The Ministry is committed to ensuring a high quality of service is being delivered in Saskatchewan Courts. As the Ministry works closely with the Courts, the community will be contacted to discuss the changes, which will take effect January 1. The Ministry will also continue to work closely with the Courts to provide support to ensure a smooth transition during the implementation of these changes,” said Jackle.
It is anticipated the Court of Queen’s Bench will consult with the local bar association to discuss which services may continue in the community.

article continues below