A critical bed shortage at Alberta hospital has delayed the psychiatric assessment of the man accused of attacking an Edmonton police officer and hitting four pedestrians with a UHaul van during a police chase downtown.

Abdulahi Sharif appeared in court by CCTV Wednesday, hands clasped in front of him, nodding as he listened to the proceedings translated into Somali by an interpreter.

Court heard Sharif, 30, had not yet undergone a psychiatric assessment ordered a month ago. He's expected to be assessed Thursday.

A document sent to the prosecutor by Alberta Health Services states: "As our bed shortage has been critical, we have been unable to have Mr. Sharif admitted to Alberta Hospital to have this assessment done."

One assessment will determine if Sharif is fit to stand trial. A second test will assess if he can be found criminally responsible for the incidents beginning on Sept. 30 when Const. Mike Chernyk was struck by a vehicle and stabbed outside Commonwealth Stadium.

Judge James Wheatley adjourned the case to Jan. 12.

"Obviously it's an issue," said defence lawyer Karanpal Aujla outside the courtroom, alluding to the delay. "But I'd rather have an assessment done properly." 

Delay 'unsatisfying,' lawyer says0:50

No critical shortage, says associate minister

But associate minister of health Brandy Payne refuted AHS's contention that bed shortages have reached a critical stage.

"There's not a critical shortage but there was a slight delay in terms of the timeliness of access," Payne told reporters.

She said her department has added two new psychiatrists and a psychologist to address growing demand for court-ordered mental health assessments, which have increased three-fold in the past several years.

AHS is on track to complete 1,000 assessments this year, she added.

It's not the first delay in the case of Sharif, who is charged with five counts of attempted murder.

Legal Aid funding wasn't approved until Nov 8.

But Aujla said in such complex cases it's not unusual for those involved "to take their time to ensure everything is done properly."

If Sharif is tried and convicted, he could face deportation back to Somalia after serving his sentence.

He was granted refugee status in 2012 after arriving in Canada earlier that year from the United States, where he had been living since July 12, 2011.

Just hours after the attacks Edmonton police said they were investigating "acts of terrorism" and that an ISIS flag was seized from the car that struck Chernyk.

No terrorism related charges have ever been laid. But some media outlets and politicians continue to suggest otherwise, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who referred to the incidents as a "terrorist attack" in an October visit.

"As far as free speech is concerned you can't stop people from saying what they'd like to say, however the facts are that he's not charged with anything terrorism related," said Aujla.

"That's always part of the concern as to how the public perceives an individual and if they are being painted with a certain kind of brush that could certainly cause issues."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca 
@andreahuncar