MONTREAL - Provincial Crown prosecutors - most of them solemnly bedecked in their legal robes - stood in silent protest Tuesday afternoon under the five-storey atrium of the city’s main courthouse.
Their wordless and chant-free occupation of most of the spacious lobby lasted for about a half-hour.
They were marking the initial day of a walkout their union’s executive director declared “could go on more than a month.”
“We’ve been saving for five years and we have enough to take care of 450 lawyers,” J.D. Gerols added, after the silent strikers had filed decorously from the lobby to conduct an equally decorous, chant-free picket line - which included picket signs - on the Notre Dame St. E. courthouse steps in Old Montreal.
Of the roughly 100 Quebec prosecutors who normally handle cases at the Montreal courthouse, Gerols added, five are being assigned daily, on a rotating basis, to deal with such essential services as bail hearings and first appearances.
However, “I’d say easily 150” cases had to be held over Tuesday because of the walkout, Giovanni Diamente, a courthouse information officer, estimated after taking a late-afternoon tally of the rolls.
Civil cases are not affected.
“Superior Court was all go-ahead; they haven’t postponed anything today,” Diamente said.
He pegged the number of those ongoing cases at 14.
Jury trials are also proceeding, in line with essential-services rules. However, Diamente added, “there’s just one.”
Diamente said he was flooded with phone calls Tuesday morning from confused members of the public:
“They were asking whether they would be able to get into the courthouse," he said.
“I even had calls from people in civil cases wondering whether they should come in," he added.
While the prosecutors are demanding a salary hike of 40 per cent, “it goes beyond the money,” into a variety of workload issues, union official Gerols said.
“I have so many files on my desk, I don’t know what to do.”
Depending on how the Quebec government reacts, the standoff could go on for as long as two months, he suggested.
Talks have broken down and no new ones are scheduled.
Strike pay amounts to 42 per cent of gross pay, the standard scale that begins at $43,000 a year and reaches a maximum of $100,700, Gerols said.
But because strike pay is not taxable income, he added, the effect in terms of purchasing power during the walkout is that striking prosecutors are going to be receiving the equivalent of 70 per cent of their after-tax pay.
Katherine Wilton of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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