B.C.’s Attorney General is defending her ministry after two suspected drug dealers walked free in Victoria last week because of a lack of sheriffs in court.
“Nobody wants to see a case dismissed, not being heard on its merits. I certainly don’t, the public absolutely does not,” says Suzanne Anton.
Anton says the Ministry of Justice is looking into what went wrong, but says in at least one of the cases the issue came down to scheduling.
She says the accused had actually missed a Monday court date, which was then rescheduled for Friday; a sheriff wasn’t available until later in that day.
“It’s a constantly moving system, so scheduling really is an art. And it works between the services staff, the sheriffs, the judiciary to make sure that our courts are functioning throughout British Columbia.”
But with no sheriff on hand at the scheduled time, the judge stayed the charges.
LISTEN: Jill Bennett talks with Attorney General Suzanne Anton about the sheriff shortage
Anton admits there was a breakdown.
“We did have a bit of a perfect storm in Victoria last week. There was illness, there were a couple of jury trials which consume a lot of resources.”
She says the province is now taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again – with $2.67-million in the budget which will push an additional class of 24 sheriffs through the Justice institute first in May, then again in October.
Asked why the money is only coming now when the union has been sounding the alarm for some time now Anton denied it was an election ploy.
“It’s not because it’s an election year, it’s because we’re always observing what our resources are.”
She says the ministry has focused much of its attention on trying to speed up court access by removing things like strata disputes and impaired driving cases from the courtroom.
On concerns about high turnover in the job, Anton says she couldn’t speak to wage issue because they’re addressed in collective bargaining – but says staff turnover is consistent with other public service jobs.
She adds there’s been no trouble attracting qualified recruits.