WATCH: We’re learning more tonight about a troubling situation that played out at the Nanaimo courthouse last week. For three consecutive days a court room was closed because there wasn’t a sheriff available to staff it. Kendall Hanson reports.
A Nanaimo courtroom was shut Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week because there was no sheriff to staff it.
The union that represents B.C. sheriffs says a lack of sheriffs across the province is leading to court delays and impacting justice.
“This isn’t just Nanaimo or Victoria, this is right around the province,” said Dean Purdy with the BC Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU). “We just got word that another court case was thrown out in Prince George today, a high-profile drug case.”
And recently the impact was felt in Nanaimo too when a lack of sheriffs resulted in one courtroom shutting down last week. It happened Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday because there was no sheriff to staff it.
“When courts get shut down for any reason, it’s unfair to the accused. It’s unfair to the victims. It’s unfair to the whole system,” said lawyer Bert King. He says his cases weren’t directly impacted but all were indirect.
“Any decision that comes down, whether it’s family law, criminal law or civil law someone’s unhappy,” said King. “And we have to have sheriffs in that courtroom not only to protect the staff, to protect the integrity of the court but to protect the other people in the courtroom.”
The BCGEU says there were 500 sheriffs in BC 10 years ago and now there are only 400 and so the B.C. government needs to make changes.
“What they need to do is hire a whole bunch of new sheriffs and pay them adequately,” said Purdy. “Because sheriffs right out of the Justice Institute are being recruited heavily by the police and picked off one by one.”
The union says sheriffs can go to the RCMP for $85,000 a year or more to work for municipal or transit police while a deputy sheriff tops out at $58,000.
“We’ve been lumped in with all other government employees and received kind of minuscule pay raises while RCMP, municipal police and transit police have gotten much more and the gap has only widened since,” said Purdy.
In a statement the Ministry of Attorney General says “…we will be taking action by increasing the number of court sheriffs, expanding the use of duty counsel, and increasing staffing of the Court Services Branch to address court delays.
The ministry is looking at ways to add additional classes to make sure there are sufficient sheriffs in the courtrooms and we expect more than 50 new sheriffs will be added this year. We will continue to make improvements to ensure we do not let down court users across the province.?