British Columbia

For 2nd time in a week, accused drug dealer freed over sheriff shortage in B.C.

In six days, two accused drug dealers have had their charges stayed at the B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria.

Both men had charges stayed at B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria

A sheriff shortage in B.C. has led to two accused drug dealers having charges stayed in less than a week. (CBC)

For the second time in six days, an accused drug dealer has walked free from a Victoria, B.C. courthouse because of a sheriff shortage in the province.

Public Safety Critic Mike Farnworth raised the issue in question period Thursday, the day after a drug trafficking charge and two weapons charges were stayed against Michael Dubensky.

"This is completely unacceptable. This was in the Supreme Court. The kind of cases that get there aren't trivial cases," the NDP critic said.

"Because of a lack of sheriffs which this government has known about for ages, that this individual walks free — and smiles when they walk free — is just outrageous."

Dubsenky has been in and out of the legal system since 2003, according to court records.

Illness blamed 

After being confronted in question period, B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said sickness was partly to blame for stretched resources in the capital city.

"Nobody likes to see [people set free]," she said. "There is a challenge in Victoria this week because of the very significant demand on resources with illness but we're changing that."

On Friday, a drug trafficking charge against accused dealer Richard D'Allesandro was stayed because there was no sheriff to escort the accused from a holding cell to the courtroom.

On Monday, Anton described D'Allesandro's case as an "anomaly."

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the province is training new sheriffs to address the ongoing shortage. (CBC)

She said the province is "doubling" the amount of sheriffs being trained, with nearly 100 trainees slated to graduate from the justice institute in the next two years.

But during question period, the NDP noted that the number of sheriffs has dropped by 20 per cent since 2012 — down from 500 to 400 provincewide.

Anton wouldn't say if she plans to bring in sheriffs from neighbouring jurisdictions to address the immediate shortage in Victoria.

"I'm talking to chief sheriff and court services staff to make sure courtrooms are adequately staffed," she said.

Sheriffs oversee the accused, handle prisoners and act as security. Without them, there is no security in the courtroom.

With files from CBC's Richard Zussman