One of Nova Scotia’s top public safety officers has been in Ottawa the past two days to determine the ramifications of the pending closure of the RCMP forensic lab in Halifax.

Robert Purcell, executive director of public safety, left for Ottawa on Wednesday, Justice Department spokesman Dan Harrison said Friday.

RCMP brass caught the province and other justice personnel off guard in late May when they announced they would shut the Halifax lab, along with two others in Canada. There will now be three forensic labs operating in Canada, down from six.

Forensic work, such as DNA, firearms and other testing, will now be done by the remaining labs, most notably, Ottawa.

The Mounties have said they’d save $3.5 million and garner “efficiencies” from the lab closures.

Harrison said the meetings with the Mounties are primarily information gathering.

“I think it’s first to learn the information they’re providing us and telling us more about their plan and how they intend for this to work.”

After Purcell gets briefed, justice officials will “analyse” the information before making their next move, Harrison said.

It’s not clear what the department will do next, he said, adding it’s “premature” to say the province will fight the closure.

But critics have said the justice system in Nova Scotia could be seriously compromised because of backlogs due to the lower number of forensic technicians who would be available.

They are also worried that prosecutors would be pressured into not pursuing certain cases because it would take too long to get results.

Save for a brief statement confirming the lab shutdowns, the Mounties have refused to provide any information as to how the reduced system will work.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry has said he would like to see the Halifax lab remain open, but believes the new system won’t hurt the provincial justice system.

Sources told this newspaper that the already overburdened RCMP lab here could not turn over results in a murder case fast enough in 2010.

Halifax police instead hired a private lab to do the required forensic work in order to keep the murder suspect behind bars, the sources said.

Police in Halifax confirmed they spent about $40,000 on private labs in the fiscal year ending in the spring of 2011.

Eva Hoare, Herald News

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