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Alberta to invest $14.5-million to ease court delays

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she is open to a proposal from some provinces to scrap preliminary inquiries to ease court delays, but warned the idea lacks consistent support across the country.

PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

After prosecutors revealed they had to drop 200 cases due to a lack of resources, the Alberta government says it will invest $14.5-million in the criminal-justice system to hire more Crown prosecutors and support staff.

The move comes after The Globe and Mail reported on a new "triage protocol" in the province that asks prosecutors to consider whether securing a conviction is worth the time and expense. It was crafted in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last July known as R. v Jordan that set strict time limits for criminal proceedings.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said on Thursday she is open to a proposal from some provinces to scrap preliminary inquiries to ease court delays, but warned the idea lacks consistent support across the country.

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"I haven't necessarily closed the door, but I want to point out that discussions around getting rid of preliminary inquiries [have] been very controversial," Ms. Wilson-Raybould said on Thursday after testifying at the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee, which is studying the issue of court delays.

"There isn't a consistency of opinion across the country in terms of whether or not that's a good thing to do. Some jurisdictions really value the idea of having and continuing to maintain preliminary inquiries."

Alberta is one of two provinces in which a judge has thrown out a first-degree murder charge because of delay since the Supreme Court decision.

Alberta's NDP government said the $14.5-million investment will be in the upcoming budget and cover expenses such as hiring 35 Crown prosecutors and another 30 court clerks. The positions are in addition to the 15 Crown prosecutors currently being recruited, the government said.

"In light of the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Jordan, this new investment is more important than ever," Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in a release.

But the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association said it does not believe the positions will bring caseloads down to manageable levels, because the jobs are not new and prosecutors are being asked to take on new responsibilities.

It said 35 existing positions were not filled as prosecutors retired or resigned since 2015.

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"While we welcome the filling of the 35 existing and vacant Crown Prosecutor positions, we hope the Government will accept our submission that an additional 50 Crown Prosecutors are needed to meet the Prosecution Service's trial court responsibilities," the association said in a release.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she is open to a session with provinces focused on how to respond to the new timelines.

She also announced the appointment of Tracey Clements, a partner with Stewart McKelvey law firm in Charlottetown, as a judge in the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island.

Ms. Clements is the first judge appointed under a revamped judicial advisory committee process, which includes members of the public selected through an open process. Ms. Wilson-Raybould said other appointments are imminent and her government has now appointed 40 judges, with 60 vacancies left in superior courts.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould said there is no "silver bullet" to solve court delays, but her government is engaged on a number of fronts, including talking with provinces and territories and reviewing the criminal justice system, including sentencing reform.

She said mandatory-minimum sentences contribute to court delays because they eliminate the opportunity for prosecutors to look for agreements to avoid trials.

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"There is a place for judges to exercise their discretion when sentencing an individual, and I have that in my mind when we're reviewing mandatory minimum penalties," she said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

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