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Court facilities need upgrade: Bégin

TRURO, N.S. Both the provincial and Supreme Court facilities in Truro are outdated and unsecure and plans should begin immediately to have them replaced, a sitting judge says.

“The time has long passed for a new courthouse in Truro,” provincial court Judge Al Bégin wrote, in a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil that has been obtained by the Truro Daily News.

“As the sitting Provincial Court Judge in Truro I urge the Province of Nova Scotia to start making firm plans now so that when the seven year lease extension (at the current provincial/family courts) ends, that the courts are ready to move into a courthouse properly designed and suited to meet its unique role in our society.”

The provincial/family court is located on Prince Street in a former grocery store while the Nova Scotia Supreme Court is located on the second floor of the Colchester County municipal building at the corner of Queen and Church streets.

Bégin such concerns as judges and judicial support staff being “completely isolated” from one another with interaction only available through public hallways.

“On a quiet day this is not so critical,” he wrote, “but on the many days when the courthouse is busy, this creates obvious security issues.”

Security has also been a concern at the Supreme Court building. In February 2015 a decision was made to move a double homicide jury trial to Halifax after safety issues were identified by the sheriff’s department at the Truro facility because of the lack of separate entrances between the public/municipal and judicial portions of the building.

And in March of 2016, former Colchester Mayor Bob Taylor wrote to then-justice minister Diana Whalen about the municipality’s issues regarding the “unacceptable situation for both parties.”

“Security is an immediate concern, and should be a shared one, but the functionality of the space is a significant issue,” Taylor wrote. “The current arrangement is not adequate for the Municipality’s needs and… is not adequate for the Supreme Court.

“Any prisoners or other accused brought into the court must traverse the same public hallways as both municipal and court staff and the public alike.

“I believe that we can agree with Justice Bégin,” that the courts should be under one roof and in a separate facility from the municipality, current Mayor Christine Blair said.

“It needs to be addressed for the safety and security of everyone concerned.”

David Jackson, spokesman for the premier, said in an emailed response to an inquiry from the newspaper, that while the premier “appreciates Judge Bégin’s advocacy for the facility in Truro,” the provincial Justice Department has a Court Facilities Working Group, which includes representation from the judiciary and department, that is always reviewing infrastructure needs.”

Bégin stated in his letter, however, that the replacement of the Truro court facilities had been “at the top of the priority list for immediate replacement” until a change from the previous NDP government “led to the abrupt halt of these plans,” and he feels it should once again be moved to the front burner.

“I request that serious consideration be given to replacing the Truro courthouse without any delay, and that under no circumstances should the lease for the abandoned grocery store be extended beyond the current seven year term.”


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