'A strike will not occur': Alberta prosecutors and justice ministry to negotiate new agreement

Alberta prosecutors will not be walking off the job as the provincial government committed to addressing concerns held by attorneys, a group representing Crown lawyers said.

On Monday, the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association (ACAA) announced that Justice Minister Tyler Shandro had committed to entering negotiations over the next six weeks to create a new framework agreement for prosecutors.

A framework agreement would acknowledge the ACAA as the organization officially representing Crown lawyers and pave the path for a future collective agreement.

In the interim, the province has made a "market adjustment" to prosecutors' salaries and signalled it would provide more mental health supports.

The ACAA issued the province an ultimatum in March saying it would consider province-wide job action should the "crisis in the justice system" not be addressed.

"For the last three decades, volatility and uncertainty have plagued our prosecution service," said Dallas Sopko, ACAA president.

"The result has been temporary moments of reprieve followed by years of neglect," he added. These cycles create a recurring threat to prosecutors abilities to properly pursue just outcomes in many court cases.

"The only way to end these cycles and to ensure the long-term stability of our service is for the government to recognize the rights of prosecutors to bargain on their own behalf."

At the time, the group representing nearly 400 prosecutors employed by the province said frozen wages, low morale, and an ever-increasing workload represented serious concerns held by association members, especially as more attorneys consider moving to other jurisdictions like B.C. or Ontario.

'LONG-TERM VIABILITY'

"Our intentions are not to complicate or frustrate the administration of justice. In fact, the exact opposite," Sopko said. "Our goal is to ensure the long-term viability of our prosecution service."

Sopko said most prosecutors in other Canadian provinces have the ability to collectively bargain.

In a statement, the provincial government said it conducted a pay analysis that showed prosecutor compensation in Alberta "was noticeably lower." According to the province, the salary adjustments will help attract new prosecutors and retain experienced members.

"Paying Alberta's Crown prosecutors a market rate is critical to ensuring that we have the best and brightest on the job conducting criminal prosecutions on behalf of Albertans," Shandro said in a statement.

The justice ministry committed to hiring 50 new lawyers to help manage increasing workloads, with 35 more trial prosecutors in place now than in 2019, alongside doubling the number of articling positions.

When asked what would happen if the negotiations falter, Sopko said a strike could occur but that it would be "the last thing" prosecutors would want to do.

"For these reasons, a strike will not occur at this time," he said. "Instead, our association and our government will dedicate our efforts to work collectively in the best interests of all Albertans."

"We are motivated and cautiously optimistic that within the next six weeks or so there will be substantive change that will be in the best interest of everyone."