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Crown attorneys want to form a union, but NDP government presents a hurdle

Alberta’s Crown prosecutors want to unionize, but face hurdles to their bid, including the wording of provincial legislation and opposition from the NDP government.

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Publication date : 2018-08-17
Ford opposes handgun ban as he pledges funds to fight gun violence

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he opposes a handgun ban in Toronto because it would penalize legal gun owners, but vowed to help tackle gun violence in the city by pledging $25-million over four years for police and the courts.

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Publication date : 2018-08-09
‘Pressure points’: Five new provincial court judges hired to help ease backlogs

The province named five judges in northern and central Alberta Tuesday in a move aimed at helping to relieve strain on the court system, says Alberta’s justice minister.

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Publication date : 2018-07-31
Long waits for RCMP firearms forensics putting prosecutions at risk

Staffing shortages saw routine firearms analysis requests take an average of 238 days in 2017-18

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Publication date : 2018-07-26
Federal lawyers’ union says low pay contributing to ‘crisis’ in hiring, retention, court delays

The union leader representing 2,600 federal government lawyers says Ottawa’s persistent failure to pay competitive compensation is contributing to lacklustre lawyer recruitment, and severe staff shortages in major cities across the country — as well as to court delays and criminal charges being stayed for violating the Supreme Court’s speedy trial deadlines.

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Publication date : 2018-04-26
NDP’s rural crime fighting plan gets mixed reviews

The NDP’s $10-million plan to combat rural crime with new RCMP officers, more Crown prosecutors and improved intelligence gathering is getting mixed reviews from a rural county reeve, a lawyers’ group and an opposition politician. 

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Publication date : 2018-03-12

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Alberta’s justice system has reached ‘breaking point,’ say prosecutors

Prosecutor James Pickard says prosecutors are having to stay criminal charges because there aren't enough staff to deal with them.


The justice system in Alberta is facing a crisis, according to Crown prosecutors.


The Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association took the unusual step of calling a news conference Wednesday after Edmonton's chief Crown prosecutor stayed 15 separate criminal prosecutions on Feb. 28 because of a lack of resources. 


Those charges included impaired driving, assaulting a police officer, and weapons charges. 


The choice to stay charges because of a shortage of prosecutors is affecting the whole province, said James Pickard, assistant executive director of Specialized Prosecutions with Alberta Justice.


"Since January 2017, all across Alberta, we are confident in stating that approximately 200 significant charges have been stayed due to a lack of resources," he said.


In Edmonton in December 2016 alone, 20 charges were abandoned because there were too few Crown prosecutors to see them through, he said.


Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley acknowledged the short staffing to be a problem. 


"We're concerned as well," she said. 


"Over a number of years, the number of matters in court have increased and the number of prosecutors has not increased at the same rate."


Alberta Justice has not added any new positions to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service since 2010.  


Number and severity of charges growing in province


The number and severity of criminal charges have grown in Alberta, with over 250,000 criminal charges laid in 2015-2016, said Pickard, emphasizing that's a nearly 10 per cent increase over the previous year.


"Alberta's Crown prosecutors are fighting a losing battle to keep up with the increasing number of significant criminal offences," he said.


Pickard said "years of neglect," along with the current provincial hiring freeze, are to blame.


The government needs to drop the hiring freeze and fill the 35 vacant positions that currently exist, he said. 


In Edmonton, there is a 16 per cent vacancy in prosecutors based on 2006 levels, said Breena Smith, a Crown prosecutor in Edmonton.


Prosecutors have left or retired and their positions haven't been filled, she said.


Criminal defence lawyer Kelly Dawson said although the situation appears politically charged with the provincial budget coming down this month, the Crown prosecutors raise real issues. 


"We've actually done a little bit of work to figure out, trying to be reasonable in a time of fiscal restraint, what we need as a first step," Pickard said. "We think that 50 Crown prosecutors is a legitimate, fair, first step to start addressing the problems within the prosecution service."


The ministry said in an email that it is actively recruiting 14 to 16 prosecutors across the province right now. Eight to 10 of the positions are in Edmonton, four are in Grande Prairie and one is in St. Paul. 


Dawson said he's also met with the province over concerns about the ongoing need for increased legal aid funding. 


"I think it's got to the point that the prosecutors are so frustrated because they've been dealing with staff shortages ... that they decided to make a political statement as opposed to try to make this work," he said. 


"The government has been receptive to meeting with us, consulting with us," he said. "But at some point you wonder if they're really listening to anything other than public pressure."