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B.C. attorney general visits courthouse after lawyer attack

Niki Sharma met with Vancouver Provincial Courthouse staff to discuss safety issues in a closed-door meeting.
B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma visited Vancouver Provincial Courthouse Feb.16. Behind her is B.C. Chief Sheriff Paul Corrado.

B.C.’s attorney general paid a visit to the Vancouver courthouse on Friday, near the scene where a Crown prosecutor was injured in a stranger attack Feb. 2.

“Obviously, we were all shocked and upset by the assault that happened to Crown counsel so it was really important that I came to meet with the people that work at the courthouse and understand how we can move forward to make sure that not only do the people who come to work every day feel safe but that the public and everybody accessing the courtroom can,” Niki Sharma said.

Sharma pulled up in front of the Vancouver Provincial Court building after afternoon sessions began.

The brickwork and sidewalks had been power-washed just hours before her arrival.

The attorney general arrived in a courthouse SafeRide van with her staff and several sheriffs.

After a short stop in the courthouse lobby, the minister joined a group of court services officials, more sheriffs and federal and provincial prosecution service lawyers. They toured the block on which the Vancouver Provincial Courthouse and the Downtown Community Court sits.

She was then taken west on Cordova Street past where the Crown prosecutor was attacked as she walked to court with a private security guard.

That company’s services have since been let go.

Sharma would not comment on the private security issue, only saying the investigation into the attack continues.

Back inside the building, Sharma joined court staff in one of the largest courtrooms for a private discussion that was closed to the media.

Courthouse issues

On Friday morning, court staff in two of the province’s busiest courtrooms were trying to wrangle video booths at North Fraser Pretrial Centre for appearances by people accused of a variety of crimes.

Few prisoners now appear in person and many lawyers also appear by video.

In one courtroom, Judge Ellen Gordon told a lawyer on video he should be in court standing with his client.

Sharma has numerous issues on her plate as it comes to courthouses and the service they provide.

One was mitigated Feb. 15 as Sharma announced $29.1 million in legal aid funds to help those facing family violence problems.

The courts have also faced issues with delayed Gladue sentencing reports for Indigenous offenders, late pre-sentencing reports and delays in having psychiatric assessments done for accused.

Trial times

Sharma said “everyone needs to have a trial date as quickly as possible.”

She said targeted supports have been put in place with the Crown counsel and others in the system to ensure trial lengths do not go beyond what is legally permissible.

There have been concerns that  issues in the justice system could begin to hamper people's right to a trial within a reasonable time period. That involves the so-called Jordan principles whereby that right is upheld. The Jordan principles stem from a case that wound up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Stays of proceedings are possible if a case hits a ceiling of 18 months for those tried in the provincial court and 30 months for cases in superior courts.

“I track that a lot, how we’re doing in terms of timely court times and we’ve gone down in a lot of instances in this province.,” Sharma said. “We still have more work to do but we’re making progress.”

There have also been concerns about a lack of sheriffs, resulting in courtroom closures across the province due to security concerns.

Chief Sheriff Paul Corrado was among those touring the area with Sharma.

A report to Corrado last year said sheriffs were suffering from burnout and fatigue.

The sheriff issue has been further hampered as other members of the court system and police receive hefty raises.

Sharma said “we are working so hard at that.”

“We want people to apply to the sheriff service.”

She said there have been “a record number of applicants” for the next session at the Justice Institute of B.C.

“That means we’re going to be graduating more and more sheriffs,” the minister added.

Glacier Media did a deep dive into the mental health issues facing the province’s courts. Read the five-part series here.