Court rooms in B.C. have at times closed because judges have refused to sit without sheriffs providing security.

Court rooms in B.C. have at times closed because judges have refused to sit without sheriffs providing security.

Sheriff cuts endanger court security: union

Longer waits for trial also a threat, lawyers say

A major cut in the number of sheriffs who guard B.C.’s courts will leave the public, witnesses, judges and staff at greater risk of violence, according to their union.

The provincial government plans to reduce the hours of 52 auxiliary and part-time sheriffs, equivalent to eliminating 34 full-time positions.

“The safety of the judges, the safety of the court staff, the safety of the sheriffs and the public is compromised and at risk,” said Dean Purdy, spokesman for the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.

“More and more gang activity and violent crimes are being dealt with in the courts,”  he said. “I think it’s only a matter of time before we see major incident occur in one of our court houses.”

The planned cut comes on top of past reductions in the ranks of sheriffs – as well as judges and other court staff – that have been blamed for lengthening waits for cases to get to trial and some of those cases being thrown out due to unacceptable delays.

Almost 100 sheriffs – nearly 20 per cent of the workforce – have been lost to attrition during a four-year hiring freeze, mainly as sheriffs move on to higher-paying law enforcement jobs.

Judges have increasingly refused to run their courts in some parts of B.C. when there’s no deputy sheriff available to provide security.

Purdy said the downtown Vancouver trial of the Okanagan-based Greeks organized crime group is proceeding at the high-security court room built for the Air India trial, but full safety procedures are not in effect.

“There’s no search gates set up,” he said. “I’m almost certain that’s due to a lack of staffing.”

Purdy predicts the new cuts will cause more court date cancellations and fuel further delays in the courts.

Court rooms have sometimes been closed in Kelowna, Kamloops, Victoria, Nanaimo and parts of the Lower Mainland in recent months due to the lack of sheriffs.

Judges have increasingly spoken out about the shortage, saying there’s potential for volatile or dangerous situations to erupt in court without security.

Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. president Azool Jaffer-Jeraj said the shortage of sheriffs and judges causes a ripple effect through the system.

“Recent courtroom closures were caused by a shortage of sheriffs and this will only get worse as staffing cuts cause harm throughout the province,” he said.

“Courtrooms should not be empty when there is a backlog of cases to be processed,” Jaffer-Jeraj said. “It erodes justice.”

February’s provincial budget approved cuts totaling $14.5 million for court services, prosecution services and the judiciary, despite a published warning from the provincial court that more than 2,000 criminal cases are at risk of being quashed due to excessive delays.

“Our number one priority remains the safety and security of our courtrooms and our court facilities, but we are also living within a budget,” Attorney-General Barry Penner said in the legislature June 1, under questioning from the NDP.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Penelope the cat showed up safe and sound at her owner’s porch after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks. (Photo courtesy of Reuniting Owners with Animals Missing)
Penelope, cat and friend of the Victoria HarbourCats, returns home safe

The cat had an after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks

Stanley Fischer (right) died while in a Victoria police jail cell hours after he was arrested on Nov. 15, 1981. Forty years later, his family is questioning his cause of death. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fischer)
Family wants investigation into man’s 1981 death while in Victoria police custody

Stanley Fischer’s death was ruled a suicide after he was found hanging in his jail cell

The Compost Education Centre is hosting its annual spring plant sale on May 8 at 1216 North Park St. Physical distancing protocols will be in effect during the sale, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Black Press Media file photo)
This weekend: Tenth annual spring plant sale hosted by Victoria Compost Education Centre

The non-profit event Saturday, May 8 will feature numerous varieties of plants, live music

Saanich police detectives are investigating a reported sexual assault that occurred near Glanford Park on the evening of Dec. 29, 2020 and have shared an artist’s rendering of the individual. (Image via Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Saanich police release sketch of suspect sought in December sexual assault

Anyone with information asked to contact detectives, Crime Stoppers

Work is progressing on the new student housing building at the University of Victoria. The building will be home to 398 students when complete in September 2022. (Photo courtesy of UVic)
VIDEO: Mass timber installation begins at UVic student housing project

Green technology plays key role in building that will be home to 398 University of Victoria students

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read