'A very big concern,' says Alberta justice minister of stayed charges due to staff shortage

'A very big concern,' says Alberta justice minister of stayed charges due to staff shortage

The provincial government intends to pump more money into the justice system to ensure long-delayed court cases do not continue to be dropped.

A lack of resources was behind 15 cases being dropped earlier this week, including the case of an Edmonton parking enforcer who says he was assaulted with a crowbar and a box-cutter.

"We are very concerned about this. We take the matter very seriously," said Alberta's Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley on Friday.

"We will have more to say about additional resources, both for courts and for Crown prosecutors, after our budgeting process is complete."

Ganley says she expects additional cash for her department will be coming in this month's provincial budget. She's not happy that 15 cases had to be dropped, even if that's a fraction of the 32,000 currently in the provincial court system.

More charges could soon be stayed

"We never want to see a victim find themselves in a position where they have to go without justice as a result of a procedural requirement and so that's a very big concern for us and we have been working on a number of methods to address it."

Still, she's already warning that for a variety of reasons, including unduly long delays in getting some matters to trial, more charges could soon be stayed.

Prosecutors have been told to concentrate on cases with a high chance of conviction, matters deemed to be in the public interest and those cases involving violence, she said.

Call for 50 more Crown prosecutors

Alberta's Crown prosecutors are optimistic the next budget will include more money for the justice system.

"We've mentioned to the minister 50 new positions. We're happy if those are broken up over a gradual time period over the next few years, but a response is needed. We do recognize there's fiscal constraints though and we're trying to operate within that and be fair and reasonable," said Alberta Crown Attorney's Association president James Pickard.

Approximately 200 significant criminal cases have been stayed in the last two months due to lack of resources, including impaired driving, assault, fraud, and theft charges, he said.

"We're concerned that victims will start to become a bit disillusioned with the justice system and frustrated, which would be understandable. And also the police officers who are working hard, investigating files that are just being abandoned by prosecutors, not because of an issue with the investigation or the case, but simply because of a budgetary constraint."

Ganley says she's also working with the federal government to appoint more justices to the Court of Queen's Bench.

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