Harbour court closure ‘mind boggling’: sheriff ’s officer
Harbour Grace provincial court sheriff’s officer Dean Whelan was in shock when he opened his government email last Wednesday.
Inside was the notice of his impending layoff at the end of July. No phone call or face-to-face meeting with his bosses.
Just an email letting him know he’d be out of a job later this month.
“After 20 years … and you get a layoff via email is pretty shameful in my opinion,” sheriff’s officer Dean Whelan told The Compass. “It’s mind boggling.”
Administrative staff and sheriff’s officers were told via email of their impending layoffs and are expecting official notice to come at some point Thursday. There are seven full-time staff and one part-time employee at court in Harbour Grace.
There was some hope the Budget 2016 decision to close the service would be reversed when Supreme Courts in Grand Bank and Grand Falls-Windsor, both slated to close, were removed from the chopping block the week before
The move likely shuts the door on any agreement being reached that would save Harbour Grace from closure.
“We were told unofficially it was closing, but in the back of your mind you still have this little bit of hope that maybe it’s not going to happen,” said Whelan. “Now, we’ve been given official notice. I guess we all have to come to the reality that this is going to happen and move forward.”
Whelan, a Harbour Grace resident, has been in constant contact with town officials and Harbour Grace-Port de Grave MHA Pam Parsons when it comes to working towards a solution that would keep the court in Harbour Grace.
A proposal was sent to government that would have the town purchase the Babb Building — where court resides currently — and lease it to the provincial government at a much better rate than what it’s receiving currently. The annual lease on the property is approximately $280,000.
I haven’t even thought of what the next move is. I’m still trying to absorb the shock of it basically. Dean Whelan
Whelan figures it’d cost the government $10,000 in lease expenses, which works out to be about $120,000 a year. Government could then move all of services under one roof.
“They’d be getting it for a steal,” he said. “There’s a bigger picture happening here.”
In statement provided to VOCM last week, the justice department wrote they did receive a proposal from the town of Harbour Grace, but it was not accepted as it only covered savings on the lease, but didn’t cover all the cost savings identified in the budget.
Safety at risk
The big picture Whelan was talking about refers to the inevitable removal of other services in the region. He points to the closure of local legalaid, victim services, probation and others that will most likely come in the fall when the provincial government drops another budget.
“I think all of Conception Bay North are going to suffer,” he said. “You’re going to see everything move into St. John’s.”
The court in Harbour Grace is one of the busiest in the province and it’s numbers are “steadily increasing,” according to Whelan.
“I could understand it to a degree if it was slowing down,” he said.
To see the evidence of that, one simply needs to go to court on a plea day. There are upwards to 40 people every week waiting for first appearances and that doesn’t include trials and other matters.
Many times, the judge is scheduling court dates several months in advance. Right now, the court room is double booked in some cases for trials in the fall.
“This is not going to work,” said Whelan. “People are going to be denied access to justice.”
He also pointed out a police force, stretched to the limit already, that would be further spread out when officers have to take people in custody to St. John’s. That costs money. Same with crown witnesses. “The safety of the community is at risk,” said Whelan. “It’s going to cost the government more money in the future.”
The future is unclear at the moment for Whelan. While his time on the job would allow him to bump into a position elsewhere, he hasn’t started thinking about the possibility of commuting to St. John’s.
“I haven’t even thought of what the next move is. I’m still trying to absorb the shock of it basically,” he said. “It’s sickening. Just the way they go about things. There’s an empty feeling.”
Harbour Grace provincial court sheriff’s officer Dean Whelan received his layoff notice last week.