Court system close to collapse

Drug dealers are walking free from clogged courts, while Ottawa gears up for more drug prosecutions.

Jury selection at B.C. Supreme Court: Chief Justice Robert Bauman has warned of a crisis in the making.

VICTORIA – One of the last exchanges in the B.C. legislature’s fall session was over the state of the court system.

Drug dealers are walking free, NDP leader Adrian Dix reminded Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond in the final question period. Dix referred to a Prince George case this fall where a convicted cocaine dealer racked up more trafficking charges while he was on trial, and then was released because he couldn’t be tried in a timely fashion.

The NDP was picking up on an unusually political speech last week by B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman. Speaking to the annual B.C. judges’ conference in Las Vegas, Bauman warned that funding cuts have the B.C. court system “going over a cliff in slow motion.”

The cuts are real. By next year, court service budgets are expected to be down 10 per cent since 2008, and staff down 15 per cent. The provincial court is down 17 judges from 2005. There aren’t enough clerks. And the federal government is about to push through new sentencing guidelines that will add more inmates to B.C.’s overflowing prison system.

Bond, the overworked B.C. Liberal minister doing double duty as Attorney General, replied that some of the budget cuts are being reversed. More sheriffs have been trained, and 14 provincial court judges have been hired in the past two years.

(Meanwhile, provincial judges are suing the deficit-laden government, demanding a six-per-cent raise.)

Bond also pointed to long-term strategies being implemented to relieve the flood of court cases. It’s this kind of systemic change that has the most potential for long-term reform of our archaic system.

Right now there are an estimated 2,000 cases in provincial court that are running long enough to risk being dismissed due to delays. It’s not a crime wave; a quarter of all cases in provincial and B.C. Supreme Court are family disputes over kids and property.

The Family Law Act has been in the works for years, and it sailed through the legislature with NDP support. It encourages out-of-court settlements in family breakups, equalizes common-law rules with those for married couples and does away with the terms “custody” and “access” that suggest children are to be fought over as if they are property.

Bond also pointed to B.C.’s harsh new administrative penalties for drinking and driving, which have kept most routine impaired cases out of court.

Police have the authority to impound vehicles and impose heavy fines on the spot, when drivers fail a roadside breath test or even blow in the “warn” range of 0.05 to 0.08 per cent. Bond points proudly to a 40-per-cent decrease in alcohol-related vehicle deaths in the first year.

Of course this is being challenged as an infringement of the right to go to court and try various drunk-driving defences. A judge will soon decide if the hazards of impaired driving justify such an infringement.

Justice Bauman acknowledges that courts have to clean up procedures too. Set aside the baseless conspiracy theories around the Dave Basi-Bobby Virk saga, and you have two small-time crooks whose lawyers were allowed to spin the case out for seven years in a tangle of evidence disclosure demands.

As the legislature adjourned, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson joined previous mayors, from Conservative Party member Sam Sullivan to Mike Harcourt, in calling for marijuana to be legalized and regulated.

Not on my watch, replied Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So instead, we’re getting de facto legalization of crack cocaine.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

B.C. declares state of emergency as wildfires rage

More than 3,300 firefighters are battling more than 500 fires

Port Hardy Fire Rescue knocks down wildland fire

PHFR members responded to the scene, located the fire, and contained it to the immediate area.

Second annual Port McNeill & District Chamber of Commerce golf tournament

Golf Holes #2 and #6 are Hole-in-One opportunities, each with a cash prize of $25,000!

No taxes paid by Neucel, Doug Bondue Arena in Port Alice closes

“Neucel owes us a million dollars and it’s pretty hard to stay status quo when you’re short a million.”

Dragonboat society requests new location for 80 square foot storage shed in McNeill

“Part of my concern for using lot B is that it could become a parking lot for them…”

Average Canadian family spends 43% of income on taxes: study

Fraser Institute’s consumer report shows taxes accounting for larger chunk of income each year

LETTERS: Doctors speak out on surgical wait times for B.C. patients

‘Governments know they will lose private clinic lawsuit’

Thieves steal supplies, tools and juice boxes from B.C. summer camp

‘Take a moment to think about who you stole from,’ says Burns Bog Society’s Mark Robertson

Women-owned businesses generate $68,000 less revenue than men’s: survey

When Dionne Laslo-Baker sought a bank loan to expand her burgeoning organic popsicle and freezies business in 2014, she was “shocked” by the feedback she received from one of the bankers.

Hedley frontman’s alleged sex offences case returns to court

Jacob Hoggard faces three sexual assault-related charges will return to a Toronto courtroom this morning.

Climate change likely to cause more sewage leaks, says environment minister

More than one hundred municipal wastewater systems did not report how much raw sewage overflowed from their pipes in 2017.

Priests molested 1,000 children in Pennsylvania, report says

The “real number” of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward.

Defiant as Trump rages, Omarosa says she won’t be silenced

Manigault Newman declared she will not be silenced by President Donald Trump, remaining defiant as her public feud with her former boss shifted from a war of words to a possible legal battle.

Most Read