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'Pressure points': Five new provincial court judges hired to help ease backlogs


Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley in a Postmedia file photo. ED KAISER / POSTMEDIA


Four of the provincial court judge positions are new — one each in Grande Prairie and Wetaskiwin as well as two in Edmonton. The last appointment filled an existing vacancy in Peace River.


“Those new positions were chosen by the provincial court in terms of location because those were pressure points,” said Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, speaking via teleconference. “They were areas where the court was challenged to keep up with the volume of charges coming through.”


New positions, funded through the 2018 spring budget, also included dozens of other court staff. Forty of 55 court clerks have been hired along with 13 bail clerks.


But the province has only filled eight of 20 open Crown prosecutor positions announced over the last few months. Half of the job postings were intended to battle rural crime as part of theNDP’s $10-million plan rolled out in March.


“Having created these positions will hopefully allow individuals to see that there will be some relief in sight,” Ganley said, referring to the heavy workload burdening Crown prosecutors. “It does take some time to get individuals hired.”


The government’s recognition of dwindling resources is a positive step, said Damian Rogers, treasurer at the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association.


But the organization is concerned about the government’s ability to recruit Crown prosecutors.


“Our understanding … is that the number of applications to those positions has been very low,” he said. “We’re on this treadmill right now … where the number of departures is such that we’re always in a recruiting mode.”


Alberta’s superior court is also stretched for resources.


Justices in the Court of Queen’s Bench are appointed by the federal government. The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 Jordan decision instituted a 30-month time limit for criminal matters to go to trial in the Court of Queen’s Bench, while provincial court cases were handed a deadline of 18 months.


“The backlog in the Court of Queen’s Bench is worse than the backlog in the provincial court currently,” Rogers said. “There are a lot of capacity issues throughout the criminal justice system in Alberta.”


United Conservative Party justice critic Angela Pitt said the NDP needs to apply pressure on Ottawa to fill the federally-appointed vacancies.


Rural crime continues to plague residents, she added.


“We hear heartbreaking stories from victims across the province every single day and it’s clear that the NDP plan to tackle this ongoing crisis is failing,” she said in a statement.


There are currently 144 provincial court judges working in Alberta, of which 24 are part-time. There are four full-time vacancies.


Law Society of Alberta president Don Cranston said the new judges will improve timely access to justice.


“It is also great to see that we are achieving a more balanced approach to gender diversity on the bench,” he said in a statement.


These are the five new judges:


Randal Brandt, appointed to criminal provincial court in Edmonton, has more than a decade of experience as a prosecutor in St. Paul and Edmonton.


Andrea Chrenek was appointed to provincial court in Grande Prairie, where she has practised law since 1996. She has primarily worked in commercial litigation, employment and family law.


Sandra Corbett was a partner at an Edmonton law firm before she was appointed to civil provincial court in the city. She has focused on civil and commercial litigation and taught insurance law as a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta.


Karen Hewitt was appointed to provincial court in Wetaskiwin. She has worked as a Crown prosecutor in Edmonton, regional circuit court locations and most recently with the specialized prosecutions division.


Robert Marceau was appointed to provincial court in Peace River, where he worked as a criminal trial lawyer and was a partner at a local law firm.