Loss of Three Hills court dates adds pres­sure to lo­cal court­house

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Ko­lafa

Court days in Drumheller might be a lit­tle bit busier as the usual Three Hills court days in Drumheller have been elim­i­nated from the court cal­en­dar.

Pre­vi­ously the first Wed­nes­day of each month was typ­i­cally re­served for pro­ceed­ings re­lated to in­ci­dents that hap­pened in the Three Hills ju­ris­dic­tion, while the se­cond, third and fourth Fri­days were to deal with Drumheller mat­ters. Now mat­ters from both ju­ris­dic­tions will be held on the same day.

Lo­cal Crown Pros­e­cu­tor Ron Ped­er­sen says it is a re­al­lo­ca­tion of lo­cal re­sources as an ad­di­tional court date was added in Sik­sika.

“It had noth­ing to do with it be­ing Three Hills. It was that par­tic­u­lar date in the month where it had to be moved,” said Ped­er­sen.

“I think it has more to do with the de­mand in Sik­sika. Drumheller is the cen­tre of a court cir­cuit east of Cal­gary that in­cludes Sik­sika, Hanna and Strath­more. So the clerks that call Drumheller home, are not al­ways in Drumhell- er, but in one of the court points.”

“Be­cause of the in­creased de­mand in Sik­sika and the fi­nite re­sources in the Drumheller cir­cuit, if a move had to be made in or­der to give Sik­sika an­other day, it had to come from some­where, and that meant Drumheller.”

He ac­knowl­edges that there could be some grow­ing pains.

“The fact is we used to have four court days a month and now we have three, and we have the same num­ber of files gen­er­ally speak­ing, so our court days are go­ing to run longer than they did as a rule.” The court­house saw some of that in­crease on Novem­ber 18. This was com­pounded by the fact that a court day in Novem­ber was al­ready lost due to it fall­ing on Re­mem­brance Day.

De­fense lawyer Colin Kloot said on this day he had a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing on one of his cases can­celled sim­ply be­cause they ran out of time.

Lead­ing up to the change, Kloot says Drumheller court dates had be­come no­tice­ably lighter, but he ex­pects it may pick up.

“It cer­tainly ap­pears that way, whether this day was an ex­cep­tion day, I don’t know,” he said.

In re­cent months the Al­berta gov­ern­ment has been mak­ing ef­forts to ad­dress the pres­sures on the Al­berta Court Sys­tem, in­clud­ing an an­nounce­ment of the nam­ing of 10 more judges, nine in Court of Queen’s Bench and one in the Court of Ap­peal. The Al­berta Crown Pros­e­cu­tors have also in­tro­duced a process to en­sure that se­ri­ous and vi­o­lent crimes are heard in a rea­son­able amount of time. This comes in the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada vs. R V Jor­dan, which led to new guide­lines on the right to trial within a rea­son­able time.

“I sus­pect it is go­ing to help the sys­tem. As a whole, we don’t have that type of de­lays here that they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in other places,” said Ped­er­sen.

While traf­fic in Drumheller cir­cuit has re­mained rel­a­tively con­sis­tent, there has been growth es­pe­cially in Strath­more, Lang­don, Ch­ester­mere area.

“Over the last 10 years Strath­more has had a lot of court days added,” said Ped­er­sen.

An­other an­nounce­ment by the gov­ern­ment was they added $9.4 mil­lion to Le­gal Aid to help with the de­mands for its ser­vice.

Kloot said it is a drop in the ocean.

“His­tor­i­cally Le­gal Aid has al­ways been un­der­funded… and it still is,” said Kloot.

He says the back­log in Al­berta courts is not re­lated to de­fense.

“The back­log is due to not enough judges, not enough pros­e­cu­tors, maybe not enough sup­port staff to get files done in a timely fash­ion,” said Kloot.

Ped­er­sen says the ad­di­tional fund­ing for Le­gal Aid may help court move a lit­tle quicker.

“To some ex­tent it may stop what we call churn­ing in the sys­tem, where peo­ple ap­pear in court time after time to say ‘I can’t af­ford a lawyer and Le­gal Aid hasn’t got­ten back to me, I need an­other ad­journ­ment.’ If they could now get a lawyer from Le­gal Aid at the first or se­cond court ap­pear­ance, I am op­ti­mistic it will speed up the process,” said Ped­er­sen.

The back­log is due to not enough judges, not enough pros­e­cu­tors, maybe not enough sup­port staff to get thee files done in a timely fash­ion.” Colin Kloot

mailphoto by Pa­trick Ko­lafa

A date re­served for Three Hills mat­ters has been moved from the Drumheller Court­house cal­en­dar, and a date was added to the Sik­sika court.

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