EDMONTON — A month-long delay in the case of a man accused of attempted murder in an attack on a police officer has turned the spotlight on an increase in court-ordered mental-health assessments.
Abdulahi Hasan Sharif appeared in provincial court Wednesday to face 11 charges related to the Sept. 30 attack outside a football game.
His case was delayed due to what was described by the Crown as a "critical" bed shortage at Alberta Hospital Edmonton.
"Due to the bed shortage at the hospital where they conduct the forensic assessments, they weren't able to accommodate Mr. Sharif to conduct the criminal responsibility assessment yet," his lawyer, Karanpal Aujla, said outside court. "It is somewhat concerning, considering the circumstances.
"I'd rather have them do an assessment that is properly done and well-detailed without rushing."
Sharif, 30, was charged with five counts of attempted murder after a speeding car drove through a barrier at a Canadian Football League game in Edmonton and hit a police officer.
The driver got out, pulled out a large knife and began stabbing Const. Mike Chernyk.
Four pedestrians were hit and injured hours later when the driver of a cube van with police cars in pursuit sped down Jasper Avenue, one of Edmonton's main streets.
Sharif is also charged with dangerous driving and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
He was scheduled to be seen by doctors on Thursday, although Alberta Health Services asked the court for an additional 30 days to complete both assessments.
"I wouldn't phrase it as a critical bed shortage," said Mark Snaterse, executive director of addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services. "We've certainly had an increase in the numbers of court-ordered assessments that we are asked to do.
"We've seen a dramatic increase, actually. Over the last three years, we've seen almost a doubling of the number of court-mandated assessments."
Alberta Health Services is expecting to complete nearly 1,000 assessments for the courts in Edmonton this year.
"Three years ago, we did 500," said Snaterse.
They range from assessments on fitness to stand trial and criminal responsibility to reports on long-term offenders and dangerous offenders.
Snaterse said the health region has shifted the workload and hired additional staff to try to address the increase in court-ordered assessments.
"I think the courts really recognize that, when they are making decisions, they need to have all of the information possible," he said. "A lot of people who go through the criminal justice world have addiction and mental-health issues."
The court has approved Sharif for two psychiatric assessments: one that looks at his current fitness to stand trial and one on criminal responsibility, which looks at his level of culpability at the time of the alleged offences.
Police have said they are investigating the September attacks as acts of terrorism, but Sharif hasn't been charged with anything terrorism related.
"He's facing serious charges, no doubt," said Aujla. "They are not pertaining to any kind of terrorism act."
Sharif is set to appear in court again on Jan. 12.
Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had the lawyer's last name spelled incorrectly.