UPDATED: The federal justice ministry has responded on the issue.
Home invasion charges against three individuals were stayed in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday after it took more than two years for their trial to start.
Lawyers for the accused said the delay can be attributed to a lack of Queen’s Bench justices in Red Deer.
Zachariah Nwarbie, Christopher Nwarbie and Meagan Nicole Gaalaas — two brothers and a girlfriend of one of the brothers — were charged with break and enter, robbery and assault in relation to a May 27, 2012, home invasion. Gaalaas was also charged with assault with a weapon.
Twenty-seven and a half months later, the three had their day in court. They appeared in court on Monday afternoon represented by lawyers Patty MacNaughton, Andrew Phypers and Michael Scrase before Justice Monica Bast.
The defence counsel applied for a stay of proceedings because it had taken so long to get to court. The stay was granted. A stay of charges means the Crown can bring the charges back within one year, but has to file an appeal to do so.
However, the prosecution against the three has ended for now.
“They’re basically done for all intents and purposes,” said MacNaughton of her client’s court proceedings.
People convicted of a home invasion can be sentenced to up to 10 years in custody.
The three were originally scheduled for a judge-alone Queen’s Bench trial starting on Oct. 1, 2013.
However, they were double-booked with another trial. The other trial went ahead and the home invasion trial was moved to the next available date, almost a year later.
“Their charter rights were violated,” said MacNaughton. She cited Section 11B of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “which is the right to be tried within a reasonable time.”
Scrase said they were told there was no justice available to go ahead with the matter before the trial date on Monday.
“We’re suffering as a result of the lack of resources at this point,” said Scrase. He said there had been talk of Red Deer getting another Queen’s Bench justice, but one has not materialized.
According to the Alberta Courts Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench directory, there are three justices in Red Deer: Bast, Kirk Sisson and John Little.
Court of Queen’s Bench justices are federally appointed. Queen’s Bench is a superior court of civil and criminal jurisdiction.
Josh Stewart, press secretary for the Alberta Justice Minister, said the province needs an additional 12 judges on the Court of Queen’s Bench just to be on par with British Columbia.
“Alberta still badly needs additional judges on the Court of Queen’s Bench. On a per capita basis, our province has lowest number of judges at this level of court in Canada,” said Stewart, in an emailed statement. “Alberta has the fewest Queen’s Bench judges per capita in Canada, with only one Queen’s Bench judge per 61,925 people (based on 65 federally recognized judicial positions available). In order for Alberta to be on par with the next lowest jurisdiction — B.C. — the federal government would have to appoint an additional 12 judges. We continue to support the Court of Queen’s Bench in their request to the federal government to appoint more judges. In the meantime, we are trying to take pressure off Queen’s Bench judges by bringing in case management counsel to assist with the resolution of court cases.”
Clarissa Lamb, spokesperson for federal justice minister Peter McKay, said in an email that the government has made more than 600 judicial appointments since 2006.
“In Economic Action Plan 2014, our government committed to the creation of two additional federally appointed judicial positions in Alberta,” she said. “These additional positions will reduce delays to ensure that cases are heard in a timely manner and that serious charges are not dropping because of hearing delays.”