Hiring more Crown prosecutors and court staff won’t solve Red Deer’s courthouse woes, says Mayor Tara Veer.
Veer praised a decision by Alberta’s NDP government on Thursday to hire 35 more Crown prosecutors and an extra 30 support staff to get criminal cases before judges quicker across the province. “The fact they are hiring to address the backlog (of cases) is a positive first step,” she said.
But Veer isn’t sure how much this will help Red Deer, since no break down was provided of how many extra court workers will end up here, compared to other Alberta centres.
Her main concern, however, remains the space-crunch in the existing Red Deer provincial courthouse.
Studies have shown the existing building can’t be adequately expanded and Red Deer City Council has lobbied the province for a new structure to possibly be built on the site of the former downtown police station.
Veer said the project was given priority status, but no funding, in the last provincial budget.
If capital funding is approved — as she hopes — in the upcoming 2017 budget, it will still take three years to construct a larger courthouse, and “there’s a risk of cases being stayed in the interim,” added the mayor.
A Supreme Court of Canada ruling last summer, known as the Jordan decision, set stricter time-lines for criminal cases. Except in exceptional circumstances, trials must now happen within 18 months in provincial courts and 30 months in Alberta Queen’s Bench.
Red Deer faces a crime rate similar to Calgary and Edmonton because of its central location, along Hwy 2. “We are facing significant challenges, and three years is a long time to have that level of critical risk,” said Veer, who concluded hiring more courtroom staff won’t change Red Deer’s need for more courtrooms.
“We need it sooner rather than later… I would hope it would be on their radar.”
Justine Jubinville, press secretary for the Alberta Justice, could not be reached for comment.