Photo: Marie-France Coallier Le Devoir Currently, there are not enough special constables to ensure the proper functioning of all courtrooms. Some sometimes have to be closed, particularly in Montreal.
A week after a violent stabbing attack at the Longueuil courthouse, Quebec announces that it wants to train more special constables, for a total of 144 over the next 14 months.
Most of the time, they are special constables who provide security in the courtrooms and who walk the corridors of the courthouses where many accused and offenders circulate. Currently, there are 456 employed by the Ministry of Public Safety who perform these functions.
There are, however, not enough of them to ensure the proper functioning of all courtrooms, and some must sometimes be closed, particularly in Montreal, due to the lack of a constable to ensure the safety of the judge and the other people present. The Ministry of Public Security estimates that 110 are missing across Quebec.
After a 68-year-old court interpreter was attacked and seriously injured on January 9, many voices were raised to demand more security in courthouses, including the addition of arches serving as metal detectors at the entrance. The Longueuil courthouse, unlike that of Montreal, does not have one.
Since the January 9 attack, additional measures have been imposed at the courthouses in Longueuil, Laval and Saint-Jérôme: metal detector sticks are used and searches are carried out at the entrance.
A 44-year-old man was arrested for the attack on the court interpreter and was notably charged with attempted murder.
In a press release released Thursday, the Minister of Public Security, François Bonnardel, claims to have reached an agreement with the National Police School of Quebec (ENPQ) to open four training cohorts starting in March in order to “deal with the operational challenges caused by the shortage of special constables.”
This will have the effect of quadrupling the number of existing cohorts, he says. It remains to be seen whether enough candidates will register for the minister's objectives to be achieved. A recruitment campaign is planned, indicates the Ministry of Public Security.
“We are taking a step forward to tackle the shortage of special constables, and I thank the ENPQ for its collaboration, as well as all our teams of constables in the field who ensure the security of the population on a daily basis”, underlines Mr. Bonnardel in a press release.
The training for special constables lasts 10 weeks: 1 week online, 8 weeks at the ENPQ and 1 week of integration in a courthouse. The first cohort is scheduled for March 2024 and the last, for January 2025.
Common front for security
Thursday morning, a common front composed, among others, of criminal and penal prosecutors, defense and legal aid lawyers, special constables, interpreters and translators officially demanded more security in courthouses by sending a letter to Prime Minister François Legault and the Ministers of Justice and Public Security.
They say they have been “highly concerned” for several years by the lack of adequate security: “It therefore appears essential to us that each courthouse be equipped with permanent security arches and that a sufficient number of special constables be assigned,” their they ask. “The safety of all is at stake,” they wrote in concluding their missive.
After Thursday's announcement, the president of the Union of Special Constables of the Government of Quebec, Franck Perales, applauded the minister's gesture. According to him, the addition of 144 constables is good news, but “we still have to keep them,” he warned.
Of the last 72 trained, only around ten still exercise these functions, he lamented. Working conditions and salaries must be up to par so that they do not look for another job elsewhere, he said, noting that the government is less and less competitive.
He recalls that in addition to constables, his requests are for the installation of metal detection arches and the use of X-ray machines, which will allow the seizure of weapons that some would be tempted to bring into the palaces. Minister Bonnardel has not yet promised anything in this sense, he said.
However, last week, the office of the Minister of Justice of Quebec, Simon Jolin-Barrette, indicated that analysis work was “already underway in order to plan the addition of arches security in certain courthouses, notably that of Longueuil.”