Red Deer’s court system under stress from many sides

Red Deer’s court system under stress from many sides

Shortage of Crown prosecutors not only challenge in courts, says former prosecutor

The pressures on central Alberta’s court system run deeper than a shortage of prosecutors, says a Red Deer lawyer and former Crown attorney.

Budget cuts, changes in law, technology, and even demographics have combined to make the job of prosecuting criminals harder and the likelihood of charges being thrown out higher, said Jason Snider, who served as a Crown prosecutor for more than a decade before going into private practice in 2014.

Premier Jason Kenney reacted quickly this week after the media highlighted that hundreds of charges — mostly for minor offences — were being stayed in Calgary because of a shortage of Crown prosecutors.

Kenney declared the possibility of criminals getting off scot-free as unacceptable. He moved to put another $10 million into the prosecution service budget and promised to hire 50 more prosecutors.

Breena Smith, vice-president of the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association, said the issue is not specific to Calgary, but they did not have any Red Deer and central Alberta numbers yet.

Smith said the association is working on updating the statistics it released when a similar Crown prosecutor shortage was highlighted in 2017. The association called for 85 new prosecutors then.

At that time, it was pointed out Red Deer Crown’s office had seen a major increase in the number of charges over five years.

In the 2011-12 fiscal year, 10,947 criminal charges commenced within provincial court alone in Red Deer. In 2015-16, there were 14,377 criminal charges commenced.

The NDP government responded to the controversy with its own 50-prosecutor pledge then.

However, most of those ended up in a new prosecutor-staffed bail office and not regular courtrooms, said Snider, who is president of the local Criminal Defence Lawyers Association.

“They didn’t bother to mention that the 50 new Crowns were primarily because of a court decision that said prosecutors had to run bail hearings, not police officers. It was a smoke and mirrors announcement.”

Red Deer has seen two or three Crown prosecutors added since 2017 and vacant positions have been filled.

“But there continues to be a churn of Crowns. It’s a hard job and the NDP have frozen their salary so people were not moving up,” said Snider.

“So there have been quite a few of them who have left in the past couple of years.”

Red Deer prosecutors who handle a lot of rural cases are busier than average. Snider said they often have about 30 to 50 per cent more files than a city prosecutor.

Unlike Calgary, which has had difficulty finding Crown prosecutors for courtrooms designated for low-complexity trials, Red Deer deals with them in regular courtrooms.

“In Red Deer, we’ve generally had enough Crowns to man courtrooms,” said Snider. “But because of the volume of files, courtrooms are overbooked.”

That means Crown prosecutors must do their own triage, which typically means dropping the least serious cases.

Another issue facing Red Deer’s courthouse, is the lack of experienced prosecutors. Demographics, and the retirement of baby boomers, have played a role in a prosecutor office that is significantly younger on average than when Snider was a Crown.

“I think that Red Deer’s complement of positions of Crown would probably be sufficient if the Crown’s office hadn’t become so junior,” he said, adding the average amount of experience has dropped by a decade.

“Experience matters when it comes to being a prosecutor.”

Veteran Crowns can handle more files and are better able to confidently work out resolutions with defence lawyers, rather than requiring a trial, he said.

Changes in law have also added to prosecutors’ workloads. The government’s victims’ rights legislation passed in 2015 requires more consultation with victims by Crown prosecutors.

Even technological changes have played a role. A new electronic disclosure system requires more input from Crown prosecutors, and it can be slower than the old paper system.

“Things that used to be done by support staff is now done by prosecutors,” he said.

“I never recall ever sending a defence lawyer an email at 11 p.m. or at midnight, beccause I was never working that late.

“I routinely get emails from various prosecutors at all hours of the evening, into the night and on the weekends, because they’re working.”

Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General could not provide any information on central Alberta.



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Red Deer respiratory therapist Sarah MacKenzie was among the first central Alberta health professionals to receive the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020. Since then, nearly 3.4 million doses have been administered and COVID cases are falling rapidly. Photo by Alberta Health Services
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall sharply

Red Deer cases almost into the double digits after topping more than 900 only five weeks ago

(Advocate file photo.)
Red Deer city council discusses strategies to restore integrated emergency dispatching

Red Deer city councillors discussed additional ways on Tuesday to try to… Continue reading

Local developers who are doing building upgrades or new construction will face less land servicing costs and gain some flexibility. (File photo by Advocate staff)
From left: Montana First Nation councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation councillor Shannon Buffalo and Samson Cree Nation chief Vern Saddleback were present during the painting of the Maskwacis Pride crosswalk. (Contributed photo)
Being gay made him contemplate suicide: Councillor in Maskwacis opens up

Maskwacis got a bit mote colourful over the weekend. Volunteers spent Saturday… Continue reading

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

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta (44) celebrates with defenseman Victor Hedman (77) after Rutta scored against the New York Islanders during the third period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Kucherov shines, Lightning beat Islanders 4-2 in Game 2

Lightning 4 Islanders 2 (Series tied 2-2) TAMPA, Fla. — Brayden Point… Continue reading

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) shoots as Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) defends during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Durant’s sensational performance sends Nets to 3-2 lead

Nets 114 Bucks 108 (Brooklyn leads series 3-2) NEW YORK (AP) —… Continue reading

New York Yankees starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery throws to a Toronto Blue Jays batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Frazier snaps tie, Yankees come back to beat Blue Jays 6-5

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Clint Frazier snapped an eighth-inning tie with a pinch-hit… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Pornhub says it has removed all content uploaded by non-verified users. The sex website faced accusations it hosted illegal content. The company, which is owned by Montreal-based Mindgeek, says it has suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by one of its content partners or members of its Model Program. THE CANADIAN PRESS
International women’s rights advocates call on Canada to hold Pornhub to account

Jeanette Westbrook says being sexually abused as a child will haunt her… Continue reading

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2021 file photo, transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 600,000, even as the vaccination drive has drastically slashed daily cases and deaths and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
US COVID-19 deaths hit 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 1, 2019 file photo, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry talks about health care legislation he's backing in the upcoming session, in Baton Rouge, La. The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana. U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty's ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)
Federal judge blocks Biden’s pause on new oil, gas leases

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and… Continue reading

Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian man during clashes that erupted ahead of a planned march by Jewish ultranationalists through east Jerusalem, outside Jerusalem's Old City, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Israelis march in east Jerusalem in test for new government

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,”… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) vies for the puck with Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (7) during the third period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Vets Pietrangelo, Perry contributing for Vegas, Montreal

LAS VEGAS — Alex Pietrangelo and Corey Perry had very different free… Continue reading

Most Read