The Lawyer's Daily is now Law360 Canada. Click here to learn more.

Jennifer Stairs, director of communications, Nova Scotia Judiciary.

‘Lack of accessibility’ at Halifax courthouse a concern for judges, says spokesperson

Tuesday, February 07, 2023 @ 1:01 PM | By Terry Davidson

Nova Scotia’s judiciary remains “concerned” about accessibility issues at the Halifax Law Courts and the potential impact on those with physical disabilities.

This raising of concerns around accessibility dates back to Sept. 16, 2022, when a parkade garage at the busy courthouse was indefinitely closed due to structural concerns.

Since then, concrete barriers have been placed at the mouth of the garage to keep vehicles out, and on Sept. 20 the executive office of the Nova Scotia Judiciary issued a notice to visitors that the parking garage had been closed due to structural concerns — and with it, secured staff entrances that could be used by visitors with accessibility issues.

The notice stated that lawyers and visitors would now have to use the main entrance, and that those with accessibility concerns could “bypass the stairs at the main entrance by using the pedestrian bridge” to the southeast of the building. 

Jennifer Stairs, Nova Scotia Judiciary

Jennifer Stairs, Nova Scotia Judiciary

But Nova Scotia Judiciary communications director Jennifer Stairs told Law 360 Canada that while the parkade remains closed to vehicles, the secured staff entrances have since been reopened. However, non-staff visitors wanting to use them due to physical disabilities must continue to buzz to gain entry.

Stairs said a lack of signage pointing visitors to the parkade’s reopened pedestrian entrance and the entrance via the pedestrian bridge is one of the concerns on the part of judges.

“The chief justices are … concerned about the lack of accessibility at the Halifax Law Courts and are awaiting word from [Nova Scotia’s] Public Works on how the situation will be remedied,” said Stairs in an email. 

When asked for comment, Public Works spokesperson Toby Koffman said the department has “received several letters from the judiciary stressing the importance of accessibility and expressing concern over reduced accessibility with the closure of the parkade.”

“The primary barrier free access for the courthouse has always been through the pedestrian bridge over Lower Water Street to the podium and main entrance and it remains open,” states Koffman. “The secondary access point is through the parkade, which is still accessible to pedestrians and those with mobility issues. It is only closed to vehicle traffic.”

Koffman said repairs to the parkade are being done with a “phased approach,” but did acknowledge the work was delayed somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no “definitive timeline” as to how long the parkade will remain closed, he states.

Sheree Conlon, The Advocates’ Society

Sheree Conlon, The Advocates’ Society

The closure prompted The Advocates’ Society to send a letter to Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns, Public Works Minister Kim Masland and federal Justice Minister David Lametti.

The letter notes the parkade was closed due to concerns around “structural integrity.”

“[TAS] is very concerned that the closure of the parkade means that court participants or attendees with physical disabilities (including parties, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, media, and others) will not be able to access the Law Courts, negatively impacting access to justice for residents of the province.”

TAS notes the Halifax Law Courts building house both provincial-based courts, including Nova Scotia’s Appeal Court and Supreme Court, and federal courts, such as Tax Court of Canada.

It is calling on both Ottawa and the province to “take immediate steps to ensure that individuals with physical disabilities can access the Halifax Law Courts.”

It alleges that accessibility was a problem during the pandemic, as well.  

TAS’s Sheree Conlon, a lawyer in Stewart McKelvey’s Halifax office, said accessibility issues at the courthouse impacts a wide range of people.

“This affects lawyers. It affects parties. It affects … employees within the courthouse,” said Conlon. “At the end of the day, the open court principle is fundamental.”

Conlon said the society has heard complaints about the current situation from personal injury lawyers with clients who have suffered disabling injuries.

Conlon said the use of the pedestrian bridge, which she has used, herself, to get to the courthouse, is not an adequate solution for those with physical disabilities.

“That is a long, steep pedway that is cobblestoned in nature. So, you only have to think about someone who is in a … wheelchair … I cannot imagine anyone would feel safe.”

As for the reopening of the parkade pedestrian entrance, she questioned the safety of this method of entry.

“You have to go through a condemned parkade to get there,” she said.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada, please contact Terry Davidson at or 905-415-5899.