WHEREAS Albertans are concerned with the escalating levels of rural crime as evidenced by many media reports over the past few years; and
WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 decision in R v Jordan puts hard timelines in place to resolve cases: eighteen (18) months for provincial court matters and thirty (30) months for Superior Court (in Alberta, the Court of Queen’s Bench) to uphold an accused person’s Charter right to trial without unreasonable delays; and
WHEREAS hundreds of court cases across Alberta have been stayed over the past two years because of a lack of resources in the provincial prosecution service; and
WHEREAS thousands of court cases across Alberta could be at risk of being dismissed for violating new time guidelines set out in the Jordan decision; and
WHEREAS Alberta’s chief justice has ruled police officers do not have the authority to act on behalf of the Crown at bail hearings; and
WHEREAS the current prosecutor staffing levels are not sufficient to manage the demands of the numbers of cases on the current docket; and
WHEREAS Crown prosecutors in rural municipalities are overworked and understaffed and require additional support to effectively carry out their duties;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) encourage the Government of Alberta to increase Crown prosecutor staffing levels as well as relevant administrative staff for rural muncipalities and collaborate with rural municipalities to ensure that court cases are being sufficiently prosecuted in a timely manner.
Alberta Justice lawyers, employed as Crown prosecutors, are responsible for prosecutions under some federal statutes, such as the Criminal Code, and under provincial statutes.
In a typical case, the prosecutor’s responsibilities include determining appropriate charges, discussions with defence counsel, preparing witnesses for court, examination and cross-examination of witnesses and presenting arguments respecting conviction and sentence.
More than 100 cases have been stayed in Alberta since December 2016 because of a lack of resources in the provincial prosecution service, according to the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association. Moreover, there has been tremendous anecdotal evidence in rural communities that crown prosecutors are unable to carry out their duties due to a dearth of resources.
While the Government of Alberta has announced the hiring of 50 new crown prosecutors and 30 support staff to help mitigate against the current backlogs in the court system, it is imperative that rural communities are endowed with the resources necessary to address rural crime; increased staffing levels in the major cities will not be sufficient to address the challenges presented by rural crime in Alberta.
The RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
The Government of Alberta has provided $2 million to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) to hire up to 10 Crown prosecutors who will focus solely on rural crime. One of the ten will be designated for the Bail Unit, to work on rural crime. As of November 9, 2018, eight out of the 10 rural Crown prosecutors have been hired. ACPS is currently in the process of recruiting to the remaining vacancies, and aim to have them filled soon. On average it takes between 2 to 6 months to fill any Crown position. The funding for Crown prosecutors will help ensure court cases are heard in a reasonable amount of time.
The Government of Alberta is increasing the legal assistant and paralegal positions within regional offices. As of November 9, 2018, of the 18 new legal assistant and two new paralegal positions as part of our 2018/19 hiring plan, 13 new legal assistants and two new paralegals have been hired. We are continuing to hire to the remaining vacant positions. As of July 31, we have also hired an additional 13 clerks for the Bail Hearing Office, and duty counsel is now available for all bail hearings.
As indicated in the Government of Alberta response, two million dollars has been allocated under the Rural Crime Action Plan to hire up to ten Crown prosecutors to focus on rural crime. RMA is pleased with this commitment as well as the Government of Alberta’s swiftness in hiring eight of ten prosecutors to this point.
The UCP government built on this commitment in their pre-election platform by committing to spending $10 million per year over the next four years to hire an additional 50 prosecutors. This initiative was supported in the 2019 provincial budget. Additionally, in November 2019, the Government of Alberta announced a plan to double the number of articling students hired by the Crown prosecution service from eight to 16, with an increase to at least 20 by 2021. According to Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer, the increase in articling students is in addition to the commitment to hire an additional 50 Crown prosecutors, and that the students will be prioritized for placement in rural Alberta.
Alberta’s 2020 provincial budget included a reiteration of the commitment to hire an additional 50 prosecutors over the next three years, at an additional cost of $10 million annually. However, the actual financial commitments for the Crown prosecutor service in the 2020 budget reflect a decrease of approximately 10% from the amount indicated in the province’s 2019 budget ($340 million decreased to $306.7 million). Additionally, according to the Alberta Crown Attorney’s Association, Alberta currently has 33 unfilled Crown prosecutor positions. Given the currently unfilled positions combined with the planned reduction in funding for the Crown prosecution service, RMA is concerned that the Government of Alberta my be unable to fulfill their commitment of hiring 50 new Crown prosecutors.
This resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met, and will be reviewed based on actual hiring of additional Crown prosecutors and their deployment in rural Alberta.