Union wants better safety protocols after COVID-19 cases at Surrey, Abbotsford courts
Surrey Provincial Court is seen in this photo from the B.C. provincial court website.
VANCOUVER -- The union representing deputy sheriffs in B.C.'s provincial court system is calling for change after several of its members working at the Surrey courthouse tested positive for COVID-19.
The BC Government and Service Employees' Union said Wednesday that it was aware of eight positive tests for COVID-19 among deputy sheriffs at the Surrey courthouse, as well as 25 people who were self-isolating.
Speaking to CTV News Vancouver on Friday, BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said the union had not received an update on the number of cases and people in isolation.
Neither Fraser Health nor the B.C. Attorney General's ministry, which is responsible for the court system, would provide details on cases to CTV News on Thursday. The ministry referred questions about cases to the health authority, which cited privacy concerns and the fact that neither an outbreak nor a public exposure had been declared at the courthouse as reasons for not confirming the BCGEU's numbers.
"We know that those numbers are potentially likely to increase because there is testing currently happening, but we may not know those numbers because the employers aren't obligated to tell us them," Smith said.
On Friday, the ministry told CTV News it was aware that courthouse staff in Abbotsford had also tested positive for the coronavirus. It did not say how many people had tested positive there, again referring questions to Fraser Health.
Smith described the situation as "incredibly stressful" for employees working in Surrey and at courthouses around the province.
"In general terms, our role is to ensure that employers are developing adequate safety protocols and plans," Smith said. "Clearly, this one (in Surrey) isn't working."
She said the union's membership has raised particular concerns about "floats" used by the B.C. Sheriff Service.
"These are sheriffs who travel between courthouses," Smith said. "So, you can potentially have a deputy sheriff who had a shift at the Surrey courthouse moved to another courthouse."
The union president likened such employees to workers in long-term care homes who moved around between different sites early on in the pandemic. The provincial government eventually implemented an order limiting such workers to a single site to prevent them from transmitting COVID-19 between workplaces.
Smith said the BCGEU would like to see the province consider a similar order for court workers. She also highlighted a desire for B.C.'s mask mandate for indoor spaces to be extended to courtrooms.