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B.C. defence lawyers also want to be bumped up COVID vaccine priority list

Last Updated May 12, 2021 at 9:07 am PDT

FILE (CityNews Vancouver)

Criminal Defence Advocacy Society is happy to see Crown Counsel members be bumped up COVID vaccine priority list

Criminal Defence Advocacy Society wonders why defence lawyers aren't also being given priority access to vaccines

Defence lawyers often have to appear in court in person, work with vulnerable people, says society

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Some members of the B.C. justice system are asking to be included in the latest round of priority vaccine access.

The BC Prosecution Service has confirmed Crown Counsel members in Vancouver were bumped up the queue for a shot. While the chair of the Criminal Defence Advocacy Society, Kasandra Cronin, is happy to see that move happen, she says defense lawyers have been left out.

“We do our best to appear remotely when we can, but there’s lots of occasions when we can’t, and we do work with vulnerable, Indigenous, people of colour — those kinds of folks who are otherwise vulnerable. So we’re also wanting to ensure that we’re protected not just for ourselves but also that we’re protecting our clients,” she explained.

The Criminal Defence Advocacy Society has written a letter to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, with the hopes its members will also be bumped up the priority list.

“I have been in courtrooms, certainly, where there are people who don’t mask for legitimate reasons,” Cronin said. “Sometimes our courtrooms are physically small and we can’t be physically distanced from everybody at all times, and there’s not always glass.”

The letter points out defense counsels are routinely travelling across various health regions to deliver essential services to their clients.

“We’re just wanting to ensure that there’s a conversation that includes defence counsel as well,” Cronin said.

The Criminal Defence Advocacy Society represents more than 300 defence lawyers across B.C.

Kyla Lee, a criminal defence lawyer based in Vancouver, says the difference in vaccine priority among the same group of professionals — lawyers practicing in B.C. — doesn’t make sense.

“I was extremely shocked that this had happened,” Lee said. “That it had not been communicated to the public at large, and that it hadn’t been communicated to defence counsel, or sheriffs, or to other court staff that this was going on.”

Related: What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines in B.C.COV

In a statement to CityNews, the Ministry of Health deferred to Vancouver Coastal Health when it came to Crown Counsel in Vancouver being given priority access to vaccines.

An email from Vancouver Coastal reads in part, “Courthouses and law firms are not included in the provincial list of priority frontline workers, however some office sites may have been included in our at-risk business program. In such cases, invitations would go to those who regularly work at the identified address.”

“Crown Counsel since roughly April, May have been appearing by and large in courtrooms over MS Teams. They’ve not been attending courtrooms in person as often as they would have before the pandemic, and certainly not as often as defence counsel,” said Lee.

Meanwhile, all British Columbians 30 and over will be eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccine starting Wednesday evening.