EDMONTON — Alberta is hiring a total of 50 more prosecutors to clear a backlog that is forcing the Crown to stay hundreds of charges, including cases of impaired driving.
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley announced on Thursday that 35 more prosecutors will be hired on top of 15 that were already being recruited.
She also said another 30 court support staff such as clerks and data entry people will be added as part of a $14.5-million item to be outlined in next week's budget.
"I know hearing about cases being stayed is very concerning, and I want you to know I'm concerned, too," Ganley told a news conference held outside a hearing room in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench.
The hirings will bring the total number of prosecutors in Alberta to more than 360 by next year.
Last week, the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association said a shortage of prosecutors led to stays involving 200 people facing a variety of charges, including weapons offences and impaired driving.
At the same time, Edmonton's chief Crown prosecutor stayed 15 charges.
Opposition leaders say money for more prosecutors is long overdue.
"It is absolutely disappointing to know that this government actually needed a public outcry for them to do anything," said Progressive Conservative member Mike Ellis, a former Calgary police officer.
Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said he's concerned that many cases will be tossed out in the next six months before the new prosecutors are in place.
"How many criminals are going to be walking the streets without being prosecuted as a result of lack of resources?" asked Jean.
The province is taking a number of steps to reduce caseloads and streamline a system stretched thin by a rising population and a recent Supreme Court decision that sets hard deadlines on the length of prosecutions.
This week, the government made public new guidelines for prosecutors who must now consider time, money and resources when deciding which cases to pursue.
The guidelines say the focus should be on violent, serious crimes and discourages the Crown from pursuing complex and expensive fraud cases if the offender is facing sanctions from a professional or regulatory body.
And in minor offences, having someone arrested may be enough of a deterrent to future misbehaviour, the government suggests.
Ellis said a justice system based on time and money is justice denied.
"Are we going to ask police officers to stop making arrests as well?" asked Ellis.
"When somebody defrauds you for money, that is traumatic, and I can tell you that those people experience just as much trauma as anybody else.
"We need to make sure victims have justice."
Ganley said it's not true that the triage protocol means some crimes won't be prosecuted.
"It's a principled means by which Crown prosecutors can focus on the most serious and violent offences. It was a reaction to a decision that represented a marked and sudden change in the law."
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutions cannot drag on for more than 18 months in lower courts and 30 months in superior courts.
As a result, charges are being stayed across Canada in cases that exceed the limit, including a first-degree murder case and one of aggravated sex assault in Alberta.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press