OHS Canada Magazine

News

N.S. government failing on court sheriffs’ safety, says union

New Justice Minister backtracked on firearm, Taser recommendations


(Canadian OH&S News) — Deputy sheriffs in Nova Scotia continue to be at risk after the provincial government backtracked on safety measures it had planned to implement, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) is charging.

Last July, the province’s Department of Justice commissioned a study from RCMP Superintendent Darrell Beaton about occupational health and safety among the sheriffs, after NSGEU had brought forth safety issues in courtrooms and field work, according to information from the union. Beaton submitted a confidential 137-page report with 51 recommendations — including arming sheriffs with side arms and Tasers — and former Justice Minister Lena Diab made a commitment to follow them.

But Diana Whalen, who has since replaced Diab, recently announced that she would not adopt some of Beaton’s major recommendations after all, said NSGEU acting president Jason MacLean.

“I understand they have implemented some, but the big ones for the side arms and the Tasers, they’ve backtracked considerably on them,” explained MacLean. “They’re no longer going with side arms, and they’re also cutting in half what they’re going to train for Tasers.” Although Diab had committed to train all 235 deputy sheriffs on Tasers, the government later said it would train only 48 — and the number has dropped to 24 under Whalen’s watch.

MacLean said that deputy sheriffs require side arms and Tasers for self-defence in violent situations. “It’s just like any police officer that goes out into unknown areas,” he said. “We’ve had our sheriffs go into different situations where they’ve had weapons pulled on them.” Other risky incidents have occurred when sheriffs executed apprehension warrants: “They end up rolling around on the ground; they’re fighting with or defending themselves from somebody that didn’t want to be apprehended.”

Whalen was unavailable for direct comment, but she did issue a press release explaining her Ministry’s altered position on April 11.

“Arming our sheriffs with firearms would be a significant change from the way our sheriffs currently do their jobs, and we wanted to be sure our decision was based on research, evidence and facts,” wrote Whalen. “Few other jurisdictions across the country arm their sheriffs. We also discovered through conversations with sheriffs, the courts and our correctional partners that many would like to see alternative measures to firearms explored.

“We are confident we can address the safety concerns raised in the occupational health and safety review and reduce the risk to staff and public using other measures,” she continued. “That plan includes rigorous risk assessment, increasing physical security at courthouses when necessary, using armed police officers when risks are heightened and equipping designated sheriffs with conductive energy weapons.”

But MacLean said he believed the decision had more to do with money than research.

“What we were actually hearing was that it was budgetary,” he said. “I was interviewed last week by CTV, and I did say that it was budgetary, and then the Ministry came right behind me and said no, it wasn’t.

“But then yesterday, in public accounts, the Deputy Minister said it was budgetary.”

Whalen stated in the release that the government would begin training deputy sheriffs on Tasers before May and implement other safety measures over the summer.

“The purpose of arming the sheriffs with conductive energy weapons is to ensure that officers are able to protect themselves, the facilities, clients and staff they serve from significant or immediate threats,” she wrote.

MacLean said that NSGEU’s next steps would be to engage in further talks with the government. “It seems to be out of the bureaucrats’ hands,” he added. “It seems to be a political stance that’s come.

“We’re just trying to keep the talks going and put some pressure on the government to follow through with the promises they made.”