NSGEU Deputy Sheriffs Get a Comprehensive OHS Review

The government has publicly announced a report which includes 51 recommendations to improve the health and safety of Deputy Sheriffs and the safety of many provincial courthouses. This report was commissioned by the Department of Justice because of the pressure from NSGEU Deputy Sheriffs who have consistently pushed for safety at work. When implemented, the recommendations will improve safety for all those involved in the court system.

Occupational Health & Safety issues have been an ongoing concern for NSGEU Deputy Sheriffs. They deliver court documents, escort people to and from the court, execute warrants, and provide courthouse security, among other things. They work in very volatile and dangerous conditions with members of the public, many of whom are under stress, and can be highly unpredictable.

Safety representatives from both the union and the employer sit on a Joint Occupational Health & Safety Committee (JOHSC). This is where employees bring their OHS concerns, i.e. inadequate staffing, lack of protective equipment, and lack of training, among others.  During the meetings, concerns are heard, discussed, and ideally, addressed by both parties.

After a courthouse shooting in Brampton that injured a police officer in April, 2014, the Employer was ready and willing to listen.  The Justice OHS Steering Committee are members of the JOHSC and was tasked with overseeing an OHS assessment/report on Deputy Sheriffs and courthouse security as well as the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

The Employer secured the services of a retired RCMP manager to do this assessment/report and it was completed in March, 2015. The report’s recommendations include the arming of a limited number of Deputy Sheriffs. Others are: an overhaul of Human Resources; Tasers and Taser training; changes to the way casuals are used; and some structural recommendations which would increase the safety when entering and exiting a number of courthouses.

Dustin Rioux, 2nd Vice President of NSGEU (Also a Deputy Sheriff) along with NSGEU OHS Officer Paul Cormier are touring the province and meeting with Deputy Sheriffs to discuss the report with them. “This process began over a year ago with officers raising concerns to the employer and utilizing the OHS process. Now we have a positive report with recommendations that will change sheriff services as we move forward. When these recommendations are implemented, they will ensure the officers, the public, staff and persons in custody are in a safer environment. So we must be proactive and ensure these recommendations are implemented as soon as possible.” – Dustin Rioux. The Department has not released the report publicly because they are concerned vulnerabilities could be exposed.

President Jessome requested a meeting with the Deputy Minister for the Department of Justice on June 6th and repeatedly since then without a response. Other than meeting with the members and agreeing to arm a limited number of Deputy Sheriffs, the government is not communicating an implementation strategy if they have one. This raises our concerns about any timeframes involved in the implementation of the recommendations. Some of the recommendations need attention sooner rather than later.

In a CTV interview, Jessome says, “What I’m hearing so far is that the Department is not making a commitment on anything because they don’t know what they can afford. They are saying these are budget issues. However, this is a health & safety issue for the Officers we represent, the public, and for the people appearing and working in the courthouses. We are not going to agree that this should be budget driven. Safety should not have a dollar figure attached to it.”

We are proud of the perseverance of our Deputy Sheriffs who have been working to improve Health & Safety through their JOHSC. We are pleased that the Employer agreed to fund this assessment/report and that we now have valuable information and an independent list of recommendations.

What we need now is for the Department of Justice to work with the stakeholders to implement the recommendations as soon as possible.

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