B.C. government hopes $15 million for more sheriffs will address court delays

The province has set aside funding to address delays in B.C.'s courts, but some would like to see further measures put in place.

But other delays are caused by the lack of Supreme Court judges

A lack of sheriffs has led to delays and stays in the criminal court system in B.C. (Gregor Craigie/CBC)

In a $55-billion budget, $5 million may not look like much. 

But the B.C. government is hoping the infusion of that amount every year for three years will go a long way toward addressing wait times in courthouses, by increasing the number of court sheriffs and staffing of the Court Services Branch. 

"It's money to fund an additional class of sheriffs at B.C.'s Justice Institute, which is a really big deal. It brings the number of sheriffs we graduate in a year to 72," said Attorney General David Eby.

The number of sheriffs in the province has declined from about 500 to 400 over the past five years and several criminal cases have had to be stayed in recent years.

Last year, the Victoria courthouse saw cases delayed or dismissed and the Nanaimo, B.C., courthouse closed for three days due to a lack of staff. 

The government hopes the additional funding — $15 million in total over three years — puts an end to that.

"More have been retiring or leaving the service than we're educating or bringing on board, so it's very important," said Eby.

Dean Purdy, the vice-president of Corrections and Sheriffs Services for the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, says part of the reason for people leaving the service is because of low pay, something the funding doesn't address.

"They can hire all the sheriffs they want ... until they address the wage issue, sheriffs will continue to leave [and go] to other higher paying law agencies," he said. 

Eby says issues of wages will be dealt with through the public sector bargaining process.