Law firm says courts need to re­open now

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - JON NY WAKE­FIELD — With files from Cana­dian Press jwake­field@postmedia.com

ED­MON­TON An Ed­mon­ton law firm is call­ing for Al­berta’s courts to re­open, cit­ing an “un­ten­able” back­log of cases and ar­gu­ing the risk of COVID-19 trans­mis­sion in court­houses can be man­aged.

Courts in Al­berta have been hear­ing only emer­gency and ur­gent cases since the start of the pan­demic in late March — re­stric­tions which, de­pend­ing on the court, are sched­uled to be in place for at least another month.

On Tues­day, Ed­mon­ton-based Lib­erty Law sent a let­ter call­ing on Al­berta Jus­tice Min­is­ter Doug Sch­weitzer to work with the ju­di­ciary to re­open the courts in ac­cor­dance with Al­berta Health guide­lines.

“We were deemed an es­sen­tial ser­vice right at the be­gin­ning of the pan­demic,” said Bob Aloneissi, a part­ner at Lib­erty Law. “And yet we’ve es­sen­tially shut down and (have) not op­er­ated as an es­sen­tial ser­vice.”

While they are al­low­ing some cases to go for­ward via video con­fer­enc­ing, courts re­main largely closed. The Court of Queen’s Bench last week ex­tended its pro­hi­bi­tion on non-emer­gency and ur­gent cases to June 26, with no jury tri­als or jury se­lec­tions un­til Septem­ber.

In its let­ter, Lib­erty Law said it is “in­con­gru­ous” that Al­ber­tans are able to go shopping and eat at restau­rants while the courts re­main in limbo.

Lib­erty Law’s let­ter sug­gested courts could op­er­ate within Al­berta Health guide­lines, in­clud­ing hav­ing no more than 15 peo­ple in the same space, main­tain­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing of at least two me­tres, fol­low­ing hy­giene pro­to­cols and re­quir­ing masks and gloves.

The let­ter said peo­ple at­tend­ing court would be ex­pected to “self screen,” adding clerks or other per­son­nel could con­duct “se­condary screen­ing” at the en­trance.

Many Al­berta court­rooms could eas­ily op­er­ate un­der phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing pro­to­cols, Aloneissi said.

With months worth of post­poned cases plus new files dur­ing the pan­demic piled onto the al­ready con­sid­er­able back­log, Aloneissi said any level of court op­er­a­tion is prefer­able to the sta­tus quo.

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