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Court sheriffs, staff refuse to work, saying conditions are unsafe at Truro courthouse

Workers have walked off the job at the Truro Justice Centre on Prince Street in Truro, N.S., citing unsafe working conditions under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. (Google Maps - image credit)
Workers have walked off the job at the Truro Justice Centre on Prince Street in Truro, N.S., citing unsafe working conditions under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. (Google Maps - image credit)

More than 20 workers at the Truro Justice Centre are refusing to work citing poor air quality after heavy rainfall damaged the building earlier this month.

In areas with significant water damage, air quality testing done by the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee on Jan. 18 found five times the acceptable amount of mould spores, according to a news release from the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

The NSGEU represents the 15 sheriffs and 7 court administrative staff who have walked off the job saying conditions contravene the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

"It's absolutely not safe for these workers to be working in there," Sandra Mullen, NSGEU president told CBC News in an interview.

Sandra Mullen is president of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees' Union.
Sandra Mullen is president of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees' Union.

Sandra Mullen is the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees' Union. (CBC)

"Our concern, of course, is the fact that with so few staff showing up to work it's not safe for others to be there either."

In addition to poor air quality, the inspection found "14 buckets of stagnant water" in the ceiling, placed under pipes.

"[The buckets] have been sitting there for goodness knows how long. That's not taking the appropriate action, that's spreading this stuff," Mullen said.

Andrew Preeper, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, told CBC News in an email the province has been working with a remediation company and the landlord to address the damage created by heavy rains on Jan. 10 and 11.

The inspection by the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee found "14 buckets of stagnant water concealed in the ceilings."
The inspection by the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee found "14 buckets of stagnant water concealed in the ceilings."

The Jan. 18 inspection by the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee found "14 buckets of stagnant water concealed in the ceilings." (Submitted by NSGEU)

He said three areas of the building have been closed for remediation, but all other areas of the building have been deemed safe and court operations are not being impacted.

The union is calling on the province to find a suitable place for staff to be relocated in the short-term, while working on a longer-term plan to address health and safety concerns in the building.

Preeper said the department will meet with employees and their union next week to discuss the work refusal.

Previous complaints about courthouse

It's not the first time complaints have been raised about the building.

In 2017, a Nova Scotia judge lobbied then-premier Stephen McNeil to replace the building, which was repeatedly referred to as an "abandoned grocery store."

Prior to the province leasing the building, it had been home to a grocery store.

At the time, Judge Alain Bégin said it was an inadequate space for the purposes of a courthouse, and pointed to a lack of security for judges and courthouse staff.

Mark Furey, who was the justice minister at the time, said there wouldn't be a new facility at least until the province's seven-year lease on the building was up. The lease was signed in 2016.

The province is now in the process of extending that lease, according to the Department of Justice.

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