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Alberta hiring 50 Crown prosecutors to address backlog

The province has earmarked $14.5 million dollars in the upcoming budget to hire 35 new Crown prosecutors and 30 support staff. A chronic backlog of cases has led to charges being stayed. Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service Eric Tolppanen says they are already recruiting 15 new prosecutors. The 35 more would be on top of those.

“The addition of these Crown prosecutors would of course help to ease the workload pressures, and the additional funding and additional Crown prosecutors over the upcoming year would further ease the pressures being felt by the prosecution service.”

The announcement comes the day after the government was forced to release a “triage” protocol that guides Crown prosecutors on how to balance increasing caseloads with funding and staffing issues. The document included instructions to focus on cases that are most likely to lead to a conviction, and to go for a lesser charge to resolve others quicker.

The protocol follows the 2016 Supreme Court decision in the Barrett Jordan case that placed limits on the amount of time an accused can wait for the start of their trial. Ganley defends the guidelines, saying they don’t mean lesser cases won’t be prosecuted.

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“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 and it was a reaction to ensure that the fundamental safety and rights of Albertans are always top of mind.”

Grande Prairie city council has been pushing the province to increase the number of Crown prosecutors for the past year, and it appears it may have worked. Mayor Bill Given says the bottleneck in the system created by added RCMP officers was the first thing brought up in their meeting with the minister last year.

“I think this demonstrates the fact that our advocacy efforts at the provincial level, although sometimes slow moving, do have an impact. Each one of these conversations that we have, each time we visit the minister and put forward a Grande Prairie position, we have an opportunity to direct their attention to something that needs attention.”

The city was given the go ahead to replace two Crown prosecutors who had moved on last fall, and one started just this week. However, it’s unknown at this point whether any of the new ones will be headed to our region.

Meanwhile, Grande Prairie MP Chris Warkentin says he’s concerned about serious cases being thrown out of court due to a growing number of vacancies for federally appointed judges. He says more than 800 have been dismissed since the Jordan decision.

“The Liberal government’s failure to keep up with the demand of judicial appointments is unacceptable and is allowing accused murderers and other violent offenders to walk free. It seems that the Liberals are more interested in making excuses for criminals, than providing justice for victims of crime.”

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