Delays in court impacting children

Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre

Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre executive director Patricia Arango Photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff

Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre is calling for cases involving children to get priority in court.

Patricia Arango, the centre’s executive director, said young victims of sexual violence should not have to wait years for their cases to proceed through the court.

“We have cases that are five years into the process,” Arango said.

“I know all cases are important, but why they don’t prioritize our cases? (Children) should go through the whole process faster than anyone else.”

Arango knew of one case that started when a girl was five. That girl is now nine and the case has been adjourned until late 2018.

She said it used to take about two years for cases to go through court so it’s gotten much worse for children.

She recalled how another case was adjourned because there was no time in court for the case to proceed even though it was scheduled to proceed.

“This poor little one cried because she didn’t want to come back.”

This month the province announced $97-million over four years to plan and build a new Red Deer court house. The need for expanded court house capacity was first identified in 2006.

“We don’t know if having a new building will be the solution. The problem is they are not prioritizing the kids.

“I know the Crown is very, very busy. I’m not criticizing them or the police. It’s just the process. I hope they understand why it’s important to prioritize the kids.”

Arango said the centre works with about 350 children and teens annually, including about 150 new clients. Currently the youngest client is three-and-a-half years old. Clients also include just as many boys as girls.

“We are serving all of Central Alberta, not just Red Deer.”

The centre is working with others to develop the new Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre.

The child advocacy centre, modelled after the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, wraps several resources like RCMP, family services, mental health, addictions programs and the Crown prosecutor’s office into one location to avoid duplication and gaps in service.

She said the advocacy centre will help cases to move faster through the court system and reduce the wait time for therapy.

The 2017 Sheraton Celebrity Dance Off on April 7 will raise money for the advocacy centre and sexual support assault centre.

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