Har­bour court clo­sure ‘mind bog­gling’: sher­iff ’s of­fi­cer

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER TC ME­DIA

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.”

TC ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Har­bour Grace pro­vin­cial court sher­iff’s of­fi­cer Dean Whe­lan re­ceived his lay­off no­tice last week.

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