Loss of Three Hills court dates adds pressure to local courthouse
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
A date reserved for Three Hills matters has been moved from the Drumheller Courthouse calendar, and a date was added to the Siksika court.