Clogged courtroom crisis ‘over-blown’ says BC Liberal candidate

NDP and BC Conservative candidates in Chilliwack-Hope byelection slam BC Liberals for 'crisis' in courtrooms.

The “crisis” in the growing backlogs reported in B.C. courtrooms is threatening public safety — and nowhere are delays worse than in Chilliwack.

That’s what NDP and BC Conservative candidates in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection are saying.

But BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness said the problem is being “over-blown” by the his political opponents.

He agreed the 109 judicial stays reported due to trial delays is “distressing … but it’s 109 out of thousands of cases heard.”

“We don’t want to over-blow the problem, but we want to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

And the BC Liberal government is already reviewing the problem with a “Green Paper” study that started last August, Throness said.

“I think that’s a reasonable approach … and, remember, we don’t have a lot of money to throw around.”

Chief provincial court judge Thomas Crabtree, speaking after a Rotary Club meeting Friday in Chilliwack, refused to be drawn into the political fray.

But he made it clear he’s been urgently “pressing the point” about growing trial delays with government officials for nearly two years.

“When I took office in April, 2010, I was desperately concerned about the time it was taking for matters to get to trial,” he said in his Rotary speech.

“My mantra over the last 18 months has been to impress upon (the government) the need for more judicial resources,” he said.

Currently, there are about 121 provincial court judges in B.C., and nine more recently appointed, but that still does not bring the system back up to the 143 judges in December, 2005.

“That’s what we say (the number) ought to be,” Crabtree said.

But it’s not just the lack of judges that is causing trial delays of more than 18-months, which puts them in the range where judges are obliged by law to consider defense applications to drop the charges.

Court delays can therefore benefit criminals, Crabtree agreed, “but the child who is apprehended doesn’t benefit. The family who is separated and can’t resolve (their differences) … these litigants don’t have a remedy,” he said.

According to a September, 2011 update to the Justice Delayed report initiated by Crabtree, Chilliwack was tied with Surrey for the longest wait of 16 months for a criminal trial.

But Chilliwack took top spot for the longest delays for child protection hearings — up to 14 months for a half-day trial — and the city tied with Terrace for the longest delay for family matters with a wait of more than 16 months for a half-day trial.

“That’s unacceptable,” NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony said.

She said at least one “potential” pedophile has walked because of trial delays, and in Chilliwack a convicted impaired driver was released after a 51-month delay.

“We’re talking about a very real safety issue in our community, right in our own backyard,” O’Mahony said. “They’ve got to hire more judges.”

But B.C. Conservative candidate John Martin, a criminology professor at UFV, said he isn’t sure hiring more judges is the only remedy because there are other underlying reasons for the court backlogs.

The BC Liberals shut down about two dozen courthouses when they formed government, he said, which has resulted in the need for police officers testifying in criminal trials to travel longer distances, something their supervisors are reluctant to approve.

That kind of delay in hearing evidence can force court hearings to be postponed repeatedly, adding to the wait times for trials, he said.

The BC Liberals also cut legal aid funding, which has led to more accused showing up at court hearings without legal representation.

“These guys show up without a lawyer, and the judge will not proceed,” he said.

Martin chastised the BC Liberals for wasting taxpayers’ money on “frivolous vanity projects” like employee recognition programs and rewarding buyers of hybrid vehicles.

“Right now, we just can’t afford those kinds of frills when you’re short of money in the courtroom … when you’re short of judges, hospital staff and teachers,” he said.

“We’re in a crisis situation, and you’ve got to do something quick,” he said.

If the public loses confidence in the justice system, he added, “that’s a very frightening scenario.”

“People need to be held accountable for their actions … and that requires a system that’s capable of responding to wrong-doing,” he said.

And right now, Crabtree said B.C.’s system “isn’t capable of providing timely access to justice.”

And that’s something that should concern the whole community, not just those involved as victims or as accused.

“Our whole notion of community is built on the rule and order of law, and part of that is we expect to have matters heard in a timely way,” he said.

The next update of the Justice Delayed report is expected in March.

Just Posted

Chilliwack’s Jordyn Huitema, a member of the Canadian national women’s soccer squad.
Another scoreless draw for Chilliwack’s Jordyn Huitema and Canadian national women’s soccer squad

Canada played Brazil to a 0-0 tie days after doing the same in a friendly against the Czech Republic

FVRD surveyed public opinion on cannabis production and processing in the electoral areas. Odour and distance from residential areas were the top concerns. (Black Press file)
Cannabis production and processing rules being drafted by Fraser Valley Regional District

Data from public opinion survey will be used to guide cannabis-related land use

Robert Nelson, 35, died after being stabbed at a homeless camp in Abbotsford on April 7 of this year.
Mom pleads for information about son’s killing at Abbotsford homeless camp

Robert Nelson, 35, described as ‘man who stood for justice, honour, respect’

Police arrest the suspect in an attempted armed bank robbery on June 2 at the Scotiabank at Gladwin Road and South Fraser Way in Abbotsford. (Photo by Garry Amyot)
Abbotsford bank robbery suspect who was stopped by customers faces more charges

Neil Simpson now faces total of eight charges, up from the initial two

Black Press file photo.
COVID exposure recorded at Kent Elementary

Students, families encouraged to keep monitoring for symptoms

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read