British Columbia

B.C. goverment to increase number of graduating sheriffs this year

The provincial government will graduate an extra eight sheriffs from the Justice Institute of British Columbia this year, after a number of situations where accused criminals were allowed to walk free because of shortages.

Attorney general admits 'some pressure on the system' after publicized instances of criminals going free

A group of B.C. sheriffs passed out flyers during a 2016 rally at the B.C. provincial courthouse, drawing attention to the need for more of them. (CBC)

The provincial government will graduate an extra eight sheriffs from the Justice Institute of British Columbia this year, after a number of situations where accused criminals were allowed to walk free because of shortages. 

"There is some pressure on the system. We do need more sheriffs," said Attorney General Suzanne Anton, after making the announcement that 32 people would graduate from this fall's class instead of the scheduled 24.

"That will bring the total of new sheriffs this year to 56. That's a fairly significant batch ... and will alleviate some of the stress the system is feeling."

In 2016, seven criminal cases had to be stayed because of staffing delays, and last month there were two instances in six days where accused drug dealers were able to walk free because of a sheriff shortage in Victoria. 

The number of sheriffs in the province has declined from about 500 to 400 over the last five years.

Flying sheriffs in from Kamloops

Anton's announcement came hours after the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union said that Kamloops Sheriff Services would be flying deputy sheriffs to the Victoria courthouse on Sundays over the next six month to cover the shortage.

"It's not just Victoria, but that seems to be the prime location where they're significantly short," said BCGEU  spokesperson Dean Purdy, who said that there are only 21 or 22 sheriffs for the Victoria courthouse now, compared to 35 six years ago.  

"Trying to staff all the courtrooms is something they're having a heck of a time with. But robbing Peter to pay Paul ... putting them up in hotels, paying overtime, isn't a solution." 

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has responded to multiple questions about the shortage of sheriffs during this legislative session. (B.C. Legislature )

However, Anton said the practice of moving sheriffs around the province is well established. 

"They are a provincial resource. They do move around. They always have," she said. 

"There is a budget item covered to move them as needed around B.C., but as we bring these new sherrifs on, there may be a little less need for that." 

Purdy also argued the province needed to improve retention by increasing the pay of sheriffs so that they were more competitive with municipal and transit police — but Anton said retention rates were equivalent to the rest of the public service. 

now