Saturday, October 23, 2010

Inaccessible courthouse in Nova Scotia means finding alternative locations for cases

From The Chronicle Herald in Nova Scotia, Canada:

WINDSOR, Canada — The Windsor courthouse may be a quaint old building, but its lack of wheelchair access is causing headaches for some.

The small courthouse on King Street is inaccessible to people with disabilities, resulting in some provincial and Nova Scotia Supreme Court matters being moved to other locations.

A scheduled court appearance for Ian Stephens, charged with dangerous driving causing bodily harm, had to be moved down the street to the Town of Windsor council chambers Oct. 15 because the victim could not get into the second-storey courtroom.

Amy Paradis (pictured), 16, is quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair after fracturing four vertebrae in a Dec. 26 crash. Stephens, 24, pleaded guilty to a dangerous driving charge last Friday.

He will be sentenced Dec. 20, and that hearing is also scheduled to be held in the Windsor council chambers. It is on the second floor of the town’s municipal building, but it has an elevator.

The aging Windsor courthouse does not have an elevator and the only access is up a narrow flight of stairs.

It is not the first time the courthouse has caused accessibility problems for judges, lawyers, victims and accused.

In 2008, Justice Gregory Warner of Nova Scotia Supreme Court moved a murder trial from Windsor to the Kentville courthouse after the defence lawyer successfully argued that the lack of an elevator meant the defendant couldn’t have a jury of his peers hear his trial because anyone with disabilities could not get upstairs.

The judge said at the time the fact that jury trials have been held at the Windsor courthouse in the past "is not a reason for it to continue if it does not provide reasonable access to persons with physical disabilities."

Warner said the lack of accessibility means the accused "is denied a statutory right to a jury panel randomly selected from the adult population of the jury district if the jury panel does not include persons with physical disabilities."

A Supreme Court jury trial for Nathan Rehberg, one of the men charged with a hate crime in connection with a cross-burning incident in Hants County, was originally scheduled for Windsor court Nov.10, but it has since been moved to Kentville.

Justice Department officials did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday or Thursday.

In 2008, department spokeswoman Carla Grant said improvements were coming to the Windsor courthouse and others in the province with accessibility problems.

Grant said the province was working toward making Windsor and other courtrooms accessible to prevent further venue changes. The province operates 84 courtrooms in 34 buildings and only 23 are fully wheelchair accessible, she said.