Clogged courtroom crisis ‘over-blown’ says BC Liberal candidate

NDP and BC Conservative candidates in Chilliwack-Hope byelection slam BC Liberals for 'crisis' in courtrooms.

The “crisis” in the growing backlogs reported in B.C. courtrooms is threatening public safety — and nowhere are delays worse than in Chilliwack.

That’s what NDP and BC Conservative candidates in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection are saying.

But BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness said the problem is being “over-blown” by the his political opponents.

He agreed the 109 judicial stays reported due to trial delays is “distressing … but it’s 109 out of thousands of cases heard.”

“We don’t want to over-blow the problem, but we want to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

And the BC Liberal government is already reviewing the problem with a “Green Paper” study that started last August, Throness said.

“I think that’s a reasonable approach … and, remember, we don’t have a lot of money to throw around.”

Chief provincial court judge Thomas Crabtree, speaking after a Rotary Club meeting Friday in Chilliwack, refused to be drawn into the political fray.

But he made it clear he’s been urgently “pressing the point” about growing trial delays with government officials for nearly two years.

“When I took office in April, 2010, I was desperately concerned about the time it was taking for matters to get to trial,” he said in his Rotary speech.

“My mantra over the last 18 months has been to impress upon (the government) the need for more judicial resources,” he said.

Currently, there are about 121 provincial court judges in B.C., and nine more recently appointed, but that still does not bring the system back up to the 143 judges in December, 2005.

“That’s what we say (the number) ought to be,” Crabtree said.

But it’s not just the lack of judges that is causing trial delays of more than 18-months, which puts them in the range where judges are obliged by law to consider defense applications to drop the charges.

Court delays can therefore benefit criminals, Crabtree agreed, “but the child who is apprehended doesn’t benefit. The family who is separated and can’t resolve (their differences) … these litigants don’t have a remedy,” he said.

According to a September, 2011 update to the Justice Delayed report initiated by Crabtree, Chilliwack was tied with Surrey for the longest wait of 16 months for a criminal trial.

But Chilliwack took top spot for the longest delays for child protection hearings — up to 14 months for a half-day trial — and the city tied with Terrace for the longest delay for family matters with a wait of more than 16 months for a half-day trial.

“That’s unacceptable,” NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony said.

She said at least one “potential” pedophile has walked because of trial delays, and in Chilliwack a convicted impaired driver was released after a 51-month delay.

“We’re talking about a very real safety issue in our community, right in our own backyard,” O’Mahony said. “They’ve got to hire more judges.”

But B.C. Conservative candidate John Martin, a criminology professor at UFV, said he isn’t sure hiring more judges is the only remedy because there are other underlying reasons for the court backlogs.

The BC Liberals shut down about two dozen courthouses when they formed government, he said, which has resulted in the need for police officers testifying in criminal trials to travel longer distances, something their supervisors are reluctant to approve.

That kind of delay in hearing evidence can force court hearings to be postponed repeatedly, adding to the wait times for trials, he said.

The BC Liberals also cut legal aid funding, which has led to more accused showing up at court hearings without legal representation.

“These guys show up without a lawyer, and the judge will not proceed,” he said.

Martin chastised the BC Liberals for wasting taxpayers’ money on “frivolous vanity projects” like employee recognition programs and rewarding buyers of hybrid vehicles.

“Right now, we just can’t afford those kinds of frills when you’re short of money in the courtroom … when you’re short of judges, hospital staff and teachers,” he said.

“We’re in a crisis situation, and you’ve got to do something quick,” he said.

If the public loses confidence in the justice system, he added, “that’s a very frightening scenario.”

“People need to be held accountable for their actions … and that requires a system that’s capable of responding to wrong-doing,” he said.

And right now, Crabtree said B.C.’s system “isn’t capable of providing timely access to justice.”

And that’s something that should concern the whole community, not just those involved as victims or as accused.

“Our whole notion of community is built on the rule and order of law, and part of that is we expect to have matters heard in a timely way,” he said.

The next update of the Justice Delayed report is expected in March.

Just Posted

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

Pig races at the 147th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 10, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack Fair plans in-person event for 149th annual exhibition

Will be first large-scale, in-person event in over a year, provided regulations continue as planned

Vivian Le is one of two local recipients of a Beedie Luminaries scholarship.
Chilliwack students overcome adversity to win Beedie Luminaries scholarships

Sardis secondary’s Vivian Le and G.W. Graham’s Alisa Gusakova are among 112 students receiving money

Crews work on the construction of Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt near the Vedder River on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack School District shuffling catchment areas as Stitó:s Lá:lém totí:lt construction continues

SD33 is looking for public input about proposed catchment and feeder school options

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Most Read