British Columbia

Crown prosecutor shortage hits B.C.

There are no longer enough prosecutors to handle the legal work of convicting criminals in B.C., the head of the B.C. Crown Counsel Association is warning.

There are no longer enough prosecutors to handle the legal work of convicting criminals in B.C., the head of the B.C. Crown Counsel Association is warning.

Association president Samiran Lakshman says the government has stripped the criminal justice system of resources, by closing courtrooms, cutting legal aid, and failing to hire enough judges and prosecutors.

"What we've seen is a systematic stripping of the criminal justice system, from not filling provincial court justice positions, to cutting legal aid, to stripping Crown offices of the ability to do our job," he said.

As a result Crown prosecutors are facing a crushing workload, says Lakshman.

"And what that means is we have a ticking time bomb," he said.

Lakshman also disputes the government's claim it hired ten more prosecutors last year to fight gang violence in Greater Vancouver, saying the government simply moved prosecutors around, leaving some offices understaffed and it hasn't replaced those who have retired.

"The reality is, those prosecutors, almost every single one of them, came from a different office around the province, and the reality is the government has a stated agenda of managing our numbers by attrition."

"Crime happens everywhere, and when you steal from one office to fund another but don't backfill, you're being quite disingenuous," he said.

Working with limited resources

Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Neil MacKenzie says the branch has to work with the resources available and they're limited right now.

"The reality at this point is that, as with any other agency in government, the Criminal Justice Branch has to work within the resources that are available to us, and we are working in an area of more limited resources," said MacKenzie. 

Attorney General Barry Penner, who has been in the job less than three weeks, is already facing demands to hire more judges to ease the backlog in the courts.

Penner says this is the first time he's heard there's a shortage of Crown counsellors as well, and he expects to be briefed on the issue shortly.

"I have not had a briefing on that matter in my two weeks now as attorney general. But I'm sure that will be one of the matters that will be brought to my attention shortly," he said.

Penner said he is already talking to the chief judge of the provincial court about ways to make the system more efficient.

Failing support

New Democrat public safety critic Mike Farnworth said the B.C. Liberals' government is talking talking tough about about cracking down on gang crime, while failing to provide the resouces to put criminals in jail.

"The B.C. Liberals can say what they want, but lip service won’t give justice to families affected by gang violence," said Farnworth. "By cutting 60 legal aid offices, the Vancouver Pre-Trial Centre, and closing 10 jails and 24 courthouses, it’s clear where this government’s priorities are."

"By leaving certain offices understaffed and with limited resources, the B.C. Liberals are allowing criminals to take advantage of a system that is overworked," said Farnworth.

"The government needs to both resource the justice system to keep our streets safe from violent gangs and promote the front-line services to help address the root causes of crime."

Delayed charges dismissed

An increasing number of cases have been thrown out in British Columbia's courts this year — or dropped before they got to trial — because of excessive delays, including several impaired driving cases. Judges have blamed investigative mistakes, court backlogs and not enough sitting judges.

In September, B.C. had 11.5 fewer full-time provincial court judges  than it did in 2006, but the province has since announced the appointment of six new judges, including the appointment of James Donald Bahen as a new judge in Surrey on Monday.