Updated: Thu, 15 Oct 2009 13:17:05 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Courthouse knife attack spurs security change

Courthouse knife attack spurs security change

Starting Thursday, anyone who sets off a metal detector at a Nova Scotia courthouse and can't satisfy security officers with an answer will be denied access to the facility.

The move is a response to this week's knife attack at the courthouse on Spring Garden Road in Halifax.

A teenaged girl smuggled in a flip-knife in her vagina. She set off the metal detector, but told security the scanner was simply picking up a body piercing.

Now anyone who uses that same excuse will have to prove they have a metal stud in place, said Justice Minister Ross Landry.

"I think they could show it probably in most cases, but if it's inappropriate then they may be denied access if it can't be established. I think the critical point here is to ensure the integrity of the system and the safety of the environment," he told reporters Thursday.

Landry said there are no plans to conduct body-cavity searches.

"If the individual can't come forth as to what's setting off the detector, they'll be asked to leave and they won't be permitted into the court," he said.

Renewed calls for tighter security

Tuesday's shocking knife incident led to renewed calls for tighter courthouse security.

It happened in a public waiting area on the second floor of the courthouse. A court worker and a defence lawyer managed to intervene and grab the attacker before the intended victim, a 22-year-old woman, was hurt.

A 16-year-old girl has been charged with attempted murder.

Christine Mosher, executive director of court services for the Justice Department, promised a review of courthouse policies and procedures.

She said she has never heard of such an incident of weapon smuggling happening anywhere else in Canada.

"We will have to figure out how to prevent such an incident again and we will just have to be more clever than the people who think these methods up," she said Wednesday.

Under current rules, it's left to the discretion of the deputy sheriff to determine whether someone's explanation for setting off the metal detector is reasonable. Staff are allowed to perform a pat search.

'Mall-like atmosphere'

Rick Woodburn, president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys Association, said Nova Scotia is lagging behind other provinces when it comes to courthouse security.

"Our courthouses have more of a mall-like atmosphere, where people come and go as they please and hang out for as long as they want. And that's not the type of atmosphere we want for our courthouses," he told CBC News.

Woodburn raised the issue of court security last year. A walk-through metal detector was installed at the courthouse on Spring Garden Road, but he said security needs to be beefed up.

There are dangerous people coming and going, he said.

"If you stand outside the courthouse, which I have, you can see people depositing their weapons back into their car or in the snowbanks or bushes in the area before they go into the courthouse," he said from Vancouver, where he's attending a national conference on the issue.

"You can only imagine the amount of weapons that had been going into that courthouse prior to the metal detector."

Woodburn said last week there was an attempt to cut three deputy sheriffs from courthouse security staff and take somebody off the front desk. However, he added, judges, Crown attorneys and defence lawyers banded together to stop it.

Woodburn believes it's only a matter of time before there's another round of cuts.

"When it comes to money, they just don't want to spend it," he said. "But my question is, what is one life worth?"

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