Red Deer officials say securing a site for a new courthouse is a top priority in the upcoming provincial election.
The City of Red Deer is awaiting an answer from the Alberta Justice and Infrastructure ministries on whether they should hold onto the old RCMP detachment on 55th Street and 42A Avenue. The city has been paying to maintain the building for several years and wants to know if there is a point to continuing those costs.
“If they weren’t going to give a capital allocation for a new courthouse in this budget year, then at minimum we need to have an answer around their preferred location for the future courthouse,” said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer.
“The site has some carrying costs on it and we need to make a decision one way or the other.”
On March 12, before the provincial budget was announced, Veer and city manager Craig Curtis met with Justice Minister Jonathan Denis to ask if they should continue to carry the land and the building. They also sent a formal letter asking for some kind of decision on the site.
Then on March 27, Veer and Curtis met with Premier Jim Prentice, who was briefed on the letter and on the long-standing issue of strained capacity at the current courthouse.
On Monday, Denis informed Veer that he had been in touch with Infrastructure Minister Manmeet Bhullar to talk about the site.
“While they doubted they would have an answer prior to the election call, they would be working towards a resolution on that site,” said Veer.
The small, aging courthouse on Ross Street and 48th Street is more than full, with court sitting until after 7 or 8 p.m. some nights due to the volume of cases, said Jason Snider, Red Deer Criminal Defence Lawyers Association president.
“That isn’t terribly sustainable,” said Snider. “It’s a problem.”
Former attorney general and retired Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Jim Foster has long advocated for a new courthouse in the city. He said he hopes the issue steps to the forefront with the election call.
Prentice called the election, focusing on the recent budget and its five-year capital plan. The five-year plan did not make mention a new courthouse in Red Deer.
Snider said delays because the courthouse is over-capacity have caused some prosecutions to be derailed and that charges have been stayed because it took too long for the matters to come to court. Accused persons have the right to be tried in a timely manner and an over-capacity courthouse can’t always meet those timelines.
“The need for a new courthouse in Red Deer is pressing and has been for several years,” said Snider.