A recent stabbing at a Toronto law firm shocked and saddened the entire legal community. The incident has reignited safety concerns in the legal community, including among Society-represented Legal Aid Ontario lawyers.
On September 2, a man entered a downtown criminal law firm and stabbed 29-year-old receptionist Julia Ferguson. Through a GoFundMe page and social media, many throughout Toronto’s legal community expressed their grief at the loss of a beloved colleague and concern for their safety.
“I want to express my deepest condolences to Julia’s friends, including co-workers, and family,” said Legal Aid Ontario Local Vice President Dana Fisher. “Many of our members knew Julia as a friend and colleague and were deeply affected by her loss.”
LAO Local members have long expressed concern about their safety at work. Society-represented lawyers are often required to serve clients with histories of violence, and during the pandemic there have been acute concerns about how the risk of communicable diseases such as COVID are managed.
“LAO finally drafted workplace safety action plans during the pandemic,” said Fisher. “Just this month the action plans for most of our workplaces were shared with LAO employees. I encourage every member to scrutinize the action plan for their workplace and tell management and contact their Society Delegate if they believe there are any hazards or risks that have not been addressed or addressed to greatest extent possible.”
The LAO Local is pushing the agency to enact a number of measures immediately, including:
- Develop a “flagging system” to identify clients with a history of violence towards LAO staff, as recommended by the Joint Health and Safety Committee;
- Provide training in de-escalation tactics and on how to work with people with a history of violence; and
- Install panic buttons in all appropriate locations, as some courthouses don’t even have security services on site.
The LAO Local continues to work on COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including any plans to return to offices and courthouses.
LAO members are also concerned about plans for the New Toronto Courthouse, where the brand new building is not being designed with basic safety measures like panic buttons in all interview rooms.