Province reverses latest cuts to sheriffs

Critics warn much more needed to unclog courts

Sheriffs ensure security in court and handle prisoner transfers.

The province will pay for more sheriffs to guard court rooms, reversing cuts imposed late last month that triggered a wave of trial adjournments and sparked strong criticism from judges and lawyers.

Attorney General Barry Penner said the government will restore the hours of 52 auxiliary and part-time sheriffs, which had been sharply reduced in late May, bringing back the equivalent of 34 full-time positions.

Penner ordered his staff to find more money within the ministry budget to cover more sheriffs after judges told him they were uncomfortable about the safety of courtrooms in the wake of the reductions.

Under the cuts, a roving system was in force where each court didn’t necessarily have its own sheriff but was supposed to be able to call on one quickly if needed.

“I do not want cases to be adjourned or dismissed simply because a sheriff is not physically present in a courtroom,” Penner said in a statement. “This comes at a cost. Budgets are already tight because of rising health care costs and global economic uncertainty.”

At least 23 trials were delayed this month, including a murder case and home invasion case, after judges refused to run them without sheriffs present to provide security.

Penner noted auxiliary sheriffs work on an as-requested basis and he expects their hours to continue to fluctuate.

“We’re pleased to see the hours come back,” B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union spokesman Dean Purdy said.

“But really it’s just a Band-Aid solution. Even before the judges in many locations around the province were refusing to run their trials because of the shortage of deputy sheriffs.”

A hiring freeze in effect for the last couple of years has meant B.C. courts have lost more than 100 sheriffs to attrition prior to the now-reversed cuts.

Many departing sheriffs left for other higher-paying law enforcement jobs, Purdy said.

He’s also worried Penner’s plan to find money elsewhere in the ministry means “robbing from Peter to pay Paul.”

NDP Attorney General critic Leonard Krog said the restored hours will help but the government must commit to a broader overhaul of the embattled justice system.

“This doesn’t deal with all of the other issues plaguing the justice system,” he said.

“We are still down 17 judges across the province,” Krog said. “There are still not enough prosecutors. We know the premier, riding the wave of revulsion over the Vancouver riots, has promised swift prosecution. And we know there aren’t enough prosecutors to do it.”

The provincial court has warned 2,100 alleged criminals are at risk of walking free because their cases have already dragged on so long they are at risk of being quashed due to unacceptable delay.

Just Posted

Comedy, chicken poop and dancing at Lytton Festival

This year’s festival will honour longtime supporter Shirley James

LETTER: Recreational angling has low-impact on Fraser salmon

Jason Tonelli writes about his displeasure at the call to close recreational fishing on the Fraser

Hope’s Wheeled Wild Women hit the road for cancer research

Group of friends ready for the 200-km bike trek that ends in Hope

PHOTOS: Paintings return to Kilby for fifth annual festival

The Plein Air Festival will be taking place at the historic site all weekend

Cougar spotted in Seabird Island

Residents are asked to report all sightings to conservation

Sts’ailes invites adults to become engaged in Halq’eméylem with new video series

‘Qw’oqwel te Qw’oqwel’ gives language learners an immersive way to learn Halq’eméylem

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read