Vancouver lawyer calls for action on courthouse safety after recent attack

After an assault on a crown prosecutor earlier this week, one Vancouver lawyer is calling for change before the situation escalates.

Rebecca McConchie with the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. says the attack sparked safety concerns for people, like herself, whose office is often the courthouse.

“Hearing about this type of attack, reminds us how vulnerable we all are,” she said. “It’s unsettling.”

McConchie says regardless of what the motive was, it’s a stark reminder that people who work within the justice system are often exposed and this isn’t the first time they’ve experienced violence. In December, threats were made to a defence lawyer in the high-profile Ibrahim Ali trial and allegations of someone bringing a loaded gun into the courthouse were discussed.

McConchie also recalls an attack in January in Quebec, in which a court interpretor was stabbed at a courthouse.

“It’s very much front of mind,” she said. “You can’t have a functioning justice system when the people who work within it feel unsafe coming to work.”

While she says different incidents require different safety measures, in general, she’d like to see more metal detectors or security screening for weapons for anyone entering a courthouse.

“Ultimately, what this incident shows, is the status quo isn’t working,” she said.

“There needs to be tangible steps taken by the government and other parties responsible for courthouse security and the security of justice participants in order to ensure that everybody feels safe coming and going from the courthouse.”

In a press conference Friday, the same day of the Crown prosecutor assault in Vancouver, Premier David Eby said he was reaching out to B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma to discuss ways to improve safety.

McConchie says a group of lawyers wrote to Sharma in December asking for action on courthouse safety and never heard back. Now, she says it’s “heartening to see that this discussion has started.”

“I hope it doesn’t take another attack to get some meaningful steps in place,” McConchie added.

She says the responsibility of this action doesn’t just lie in the hands of a singular policy maker. Instead, it must include everyone from courthouse sheriffs to upper levels of government.

“The reality is that these types of things cost money and they require a concerted effort by all parties,” she said.

An open court system is a “cornerstone of the integrity of the justice system,” McConchie says, and everyone should feel safe in and around courthouses.

“It’s certainly a problem where it’s gone on long enough, and we’ve seen the ramifications of it,” she said. “Now is the time to take action, not after another attack happens.”

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