Judge blasts politicians for 'neglected' court system

A recent Court of Queen's Bench decision stayed criminal charges against an accused drug trafficker and suggested more of the same is on the way, unless more money and judges are put into the system.

Blistering attack on federal and Alberta politicians

More money and more judges are needed to make Alberta's justice system works properly, a Court of Queen's Bench justice says.

A Court of Queen's Bench Justice issued a scathing 16-page decision when she stayed criminal charges last week against an accused drug trafficker.  

Due to a seemingly endless stream of delays, there would have been a 55-month lapse between the time the Edmonton man was charged and when he would have finally stood trial.  

Justice Dawn Pentelechuk called the delay "clearly unreasonable."  

A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision imposes a 30-month ceiling from the date an accused is charged to the actual or anticipated end of trial, unless the Crown can prove there are exceptional circumstances.  

Pentelechuk ruled there was nothing exceptional about the Edmonton case. There were complications, because some of the investigating officers with Edmonton police were being investigated for allegedly selling and using steroids. The defence lawyer had difficulty getting disclosure from the federal Crown about the disciplinary hearings and criminal charges related to those officers.

Justice critical of Crown and police

The judge called the Crown's attitude towards the lack of disclosure "complacent," and said Edmonton police "did the Crown no favours" in the case. 

"Unlike other jurisdictions in this country, the Edmonton police have failed to adopt a comprehensive protocol that has it turn over possibly relevant documents to the Crown for its review," Pentelechuk wrote. "Instead, the Edmonton Police Service appears entrenched in a culture that closely guards the documents in its possession and fails to respond to the Crown in a timely way."

In a written statement, an Edmonton police spokesperson said the department makes an effort to balance the disclosure of police disciplinary records against the privacy interests of officers.

"We strive to make the correct decision in each and every case in accordance with the guidance provided by the Supreme Court of Canada."

Justice Pentelechuk called the lack of communication between the Crown and police "concerning," but saved her strongest criticisms for the federal and provincial governments.  

Court 'crippled' by years of neglect

"The criminal justice system is a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link," Pentelechuk wrote. "In this case, the chain broke at multiple but avoidable points."

Despite the "broken chain," the judge said there was no capacity within the current system to repair the damage.

"The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has been crippled by years of government neglect," Pentelechuk wrote. "This court has no remaining resources to accelerate the hearing of delayed criminal trials. Instead, it is falling further and further behind."  

Pentelechuk said the stay of proceedings she imposed in this case "will be a familiar and recurring event, until Canada and Alberta provide this court an adequate judicial complement and necessary resources and staff."