September 1, 2000 Halifax Herald

JPs perform thankless public service

After reading a recent news item about the problems the Department of Justice was having attracting semi-volunteers to fill "outside" Justice of the Peace positions, I decided, using personal experience, to write a column depicting why these volunteers and their families deserve credit and thanks for filling this vital function within the justice system.

(Outside JPs are appointed by the Department of Justice to carry out judicial functions that are normally performed during regular working hours by department employees who are designated JPS, and by judges.)

Another more recent news item prodded me to write now. It stated that Alberta ,had raised its four full-time Justice of the Peace salaries to $80,000 from $55,000 per year. The province’s 19 part-time JPs, who were making $250 per day, also received a raise in pay to $490.

Related to reforms made to the Nova Scotia justice system, and consequent to an application I made in early 1993 for an appointment as a Justice of the Peace for the Province, I and hundreds of other Nova Scotians were appointed to the office on February 8, 1994. I was informed at that time that the pay was chicken feed and that the responsibility at times would be heavy. Time has proven the accuracy of the statement.

Although a provincial JP, my designated area of responsibility is the City of Halifax. Duties of the office include remanding prisoners to various penal institutions, releasing prisoners on undertakings, bail hearings, issuing search warrants, etc. Pay rates range from $100 per month for most rural areas, to up to $250 per month for some urban areas. As a city JP, I receive the higher amount. From this, all associated expenses have to be covered.

From the time the appointments were made in 1994, the City's workload was to have been shared in this manner: one week on duty for each of the city's complement of four JPs per month. However, because of recruitment problems, only two JPs were appointed at the time, Gary Dockendorff and myself. Gary and I worked a week on and a week off without compensation for close to a year before the other two positions were finally filled.

This is what our pay breakdown amounted to for that period: Deducting $600. for expenses from the yearly stipend of $3,000. leaves a net of $2400 per year. Multiply 26 weeks by 128 hours on-call duty per week totals 3,328 per year. Dividing this into $2400 amounts to the princely rate of approximately seventy two cents per hour. Todate, we haven't even received a “thank you” for assuming the workload of two other people during this period. Now that the full complement for the city has been retained, we receive approximately $1.44 per hour. Thus, the Alberta salary for Justice of the Peace are something we don't even dream about.

This leads to one of the most aggravating aspect of the job; having a police official, or other justice department or other officials, alluding to the wonderful salary you receive and believing that because of it, they should receive almost instant service from a JP. This does not apply to all; many are very considerate.

During a week on duty, a city JPs life, because of the volume of work, is very restricted. Prior to winning a battle with the Justice Department for pagers, Gary and I had to stay near our phones while on duty, which almost completely killed any chances for a social life during weekends and week nights. With pagers, we now at least have the freedom to travel the metro area during duty tours. However, because you never know when you might be called, movies, concerts, etc., are out of the question. Being called out of restaurants and other social functions is not unusual. Nor is getting up at all hours of the night to review police requests for search warrants or to make calls at hospital emergency rooms to remand incapacitated prisoners or review requests for blood sample search warrants, etc.

Most of the work is not enjoyable. Jail lockups are not places where people go because they like them. And it must be remembered that a great many of the people who pass through them are not hardened criminals, but are people like you and me who have made an error of judgement. Dealing with Human failings and misery can be very trying for all concerned.

One of the enjoyable functions of the job is that, since 1997, we have been authorized to perform marriages. However, even this occasionally has sad connotations. For example, I've performed a marriage in a hospital room so that a very sick Grandfather could attend the wedding of his Granddaughter. But, even that had a positive side, since the Grandfather was able to see his beloved Granddaughter get married.

The reason I've included the families of JPS into the equation is that phones rarely ring so just the JP can hear it. Entire families are often disturbed by them or by the arrival of policemen to have documents attended to.

Many friends and acquaintances, on learning about the hours and the duties of the job, have asked if I harbour masochists tendencies because, in their view, one needs to be masochistic to voluntarily do the job. When I crawl out of a warm bed on weekends or during week nights to performed the duties of the position, especially during the winter, I sometimes agree. However, what motivates most of us is civic duty. Therefore, a nice “thank you” now and then would be appreciated. When this happens, perhaps it won't be so hard to attract volunteers.

Daniel N. Paul


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