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Survey finds 75 per cent of courthouse employees find their safety at risk

Results of a survey released today reveal that 75 per cent of employees working in Ontario’s courthouses believe their safety and security is at risk while on the job.

The survey, conducted by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) a month after a killing inside a provincial courthouse in Brampton earlier this year, also showed that almost half of the respondents said they have experienced frightfulness on one to three occasions over the past five years.

When asked where improvements could be made to safety and security in-and-around court buildings, the respondents identified entranceways, parking lots, front door security, “people movement” inside courthouses, and the reporting process that follows a threatening or violent incident.

“Every day, thousands of people pass through Ontario’s 167 court buildings without incident,” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told a news conference at Queen’s Park today. “But the horrific events of March 28, 2014, caused my union to pause and ask the question: ‘How safe are our courthouses?’”

Thomas was referring to a violent confrontation that day inside the Brampton courthouse when an armed man entered the building and shot and critically injured a police officer. The assailant was gunned down and killed by police a few moments later.

The report said while the events of March 28 shocked the province, they were not entirely unexpected by those who work inside courthouses.

“(Employees) will tell you that while shootings might be rare, violence in courthouses is not. Courthouse workers in Ontario face many types of threats – often aimed at workers personally – such as verbal abuse, threats and assaults.

“At times courthouse buildings themselves are the target of violence, such as bomb threats, suspicious packages, and other emergencies that threaten the health and safety of everyone inside the courthouse.”

The report, believed to be the first of its kind conducted by either management or the union, draws a link between what courthouses were originally designed to accommodate in terms of case loads, and what pressures they find themselves under today.

“Our judicial system is clearly under pressure,” the report said. “The explosive growth of civil cases, including family law matters, with little in the way of corresponding resources and unaffordability of legal representation for many Ontarians, periodically leads to volatile incidents in our courthouses.”

Thomas also drew attention to examples of jurisdictional confusion over which ministry or other public body is responsible for funding and implementing improvements to safety inside court buildings.

“Some survey respondents said their courthouse has been supplied with new and unused metal detectors but that they remain in storage because jurisdictional disputes have not resolved who will pay for them,” he told the news conference.

OPSEU represents more than 5,300 workers in Ontario’s court system. More than 2,000 members with secure (ie non-work) email addresses were sent the online survey; 632 responded, representing 77 courthouses in the province. Respondents were blocked from completing the survey more than once.

More information:

Warren (Smokey) Thomas                             Terri Aversa
1-800-268-7376                                              OPSEU Health and Safety 416-443-8888 

Click here to read the report