More security, more help and changes in office layouts have improved the complexion at Red Deer’s busy courthouse, but fail to address long-term concerns about overcrowding.
“We’re not sure exactly what’s happening in Red Deer,” said Chris Rickards, president of the Central Alberta Bar Society.
“We have heard that there is some money that the provincial government has put aside. There is supposed to be a million dollars this year, and then some further monies coming at some later point.”
The money, including $1 million this year and $30 million in the next two years, was provided in this year’s provincial budget to fund a series of studies into courthouse space and potential solutions.
However, the bar society’s committee on courthouse expansion still has questions, Rickards said.
“We’re not getting a consistent answer from various people as to what it is supposed to be for. Some people are telling us it is supposed to be for a study to determine the viability of a P3 concept for three different courthouses, one of which would be Red Deer. Some people are saying it’s a study to determine what the priorities are between those three different places, and some people are saying it’s for something else,” he said.
“If it’s a question of whether or not Red Deer needs a new courthouse, that question has been answered a long time ago.”
The bar society’s committee, including retired Court of Queen’s Bench justice Jim Foster and former mayor Morris Flewwelling, has met with Justice Minister Jonathan Denis in the past to discuss a proposal that would allow construction of a new court building on 49th Street, immediately south of the downtown library.
The deal would involve a land swap, with the city to give the former RCMP site to the province in exchange for the existing courthouse east of city hall, built in 1982.
The committee has consistently stated that the existing courthouse is far too small to meet current and future needs. The existing building cannot be expanded because it does not have a strong enough foundation.
Ian Roddick, a public affairs and communications officer with Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General, said the $31 million provided for studies was put through Alberta Infrastructure’s portion of the budget, so his department is not privy to the details.
In general, the budget provides $1 million this year to study needs, with the balance spread over two years to address solutions, said Roddick.
Other changes have been made at the Red Deer Courthouse to reduce pressure on the criminal courts and to help better serve people using the family and civil court offices.
Traffic court was moved to a local hotel to free up space for criminal court, said Roddick. While the Solicitor General is working on new systems for processing traffic tickets, the situation in Red Deer is unique and is not to be considered a blueprint for a proposed reform in how traffic charges are managed, said Roddick.
Recommendations for traffic reform are still under review, he said.
“It is still too early to talk about specifics, as the recommendations are not yet available and no final decisions have been made.”
Some offices were moved to make it easier to access to services in family and civil mediation areas, he said.
The family law information centre, civil mediation and related services have been consolidated in the second floor area that formerly housed the Crown prosecutors’ offices.
Roddick said he did not have enough information to explain recent additions to the courthouse security system, including the addition of a security gate at the main exit and the hiring of commissionaires to assist sheriffs at the front entry.
It is not unusual to have commissionaires assisting sheriffs in that duty, said Roddick.
Courthouse operations undergoing update
Operations inside Red Deer’s 32-year-old courthouse have been through a series of updates since Christmas, including shifting traffic court to a local hotel.
While some of the changes are intended to make local operations more efficient, others are part of a province-wide plan.
• Effective April 1, traffic court is held in a meeting room at the Red Deer Lodge Hotel. People who have received traffic tickets can still pay their fines at the courthouse, but must go to the hotel for traffic court.
• Effective April 8, the Elizabeth Fry Society has provided a court worker to give guidance to victims and the accused. The worker also organizes meetings with duty counsel for people who need help with their initial court appearances.
• The Crown prosecutors’ office on the second floor was closed temporarily and then moved to the main floor area that previously housed family law services. The Crown prosecutors were also given a small office for public inquiries.
• Family law services and related civil services moved to the second floor, into revamped office space formerly occupied by Crown prosecutors.
• A one-way security gate has been added for people exiting the building. The gate can be locked electronically by sheriffs working the front door.
• Commissionaires have been contracted to assist sheriffs at the front door, where security screening systems have been in place for a number of years. There are normally two commissionaires at the door with the sheriffs, who rotate duties within the building.