Advocates are mobilizing now that Vancouver Crown attorneys have been granted early access to COVID-19 vaccines while defence lawyers have not.
Criminal Defence Advocacy Society is calling upon the province to extend inoculation access granted to BC Prosecution Service personnel, to workers in courtrooms across the province.
Others in courtrooms face the risk of exposure to the virus every day, the group wrote in a letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry Monday (May 10).
Defense lawyers, sheriffs and court clerks have been required to work in person at complex bail hearings, sentencing and trials since last spring.
“There are five persons, often from different health regions, all in the same courtroom,” reads the letter from CDAS, representing around 300 Greater Vancouver defence attorneys.
“It is not infrequent for masks to be removed for practical reasons when a counsel or a witness is speaking at length and needs to be heard by all parties.”
Kyla Lee, a Vancouver-based criminal lawyer, sounded the alarm Tuesday about the so-called “secret” decision made by the provincial health office.
Lee said she found it appalling that sheriffs and defence lawyers, “who have more public-facing interaction,” were not prioritized first for vaccines.
WOW! So apparently Crown Counsel were prioritized, secretly, via the PHO for vaccines. Meanwhile sheriffs and defence lawyers – who have MORE public-facing interaction, were not. This is appalling.
— Kyla Lee, B.A., J.D. (@IRPlawyer) May 11, 2021
Vancouver Coastal Health has confirmed to Black Press Media that courthouses and law firms were not included in its frontline worker priority program.
However, exceptions can be made, the health authority said, on a case-by-case basis – for lawyers part of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
When asked, the BC Prosecution Service said it did not seek early access to vaccines.
“Personnel working in Vancouver were recently offered priority access to vaccinations,” counsel Dan McLaughlin confirmed in an email.
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