“The average time to get to trial in Taber is 16 weeks. That’s four months,” said Taber Police Service Chief Alf Rudd, detailing information included in his monthly report to the commission on Feb. 19.
“In the province elsewhere, the average is 52 weeks, with the high being up to two years. That’s criminal code trials, and traffic trials — it’s everything.”
Rudd went on to note cases that don’t fall under the Criminal Code of Canada or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act can serve to hamper the judicial process in some instances.
“There lies a bit of the problem. Some of these minor issues coming before the courts are preventing people from accessing justice in a timely manner to some serious issues.”
“You can lay the blame in several places, but there’s a movement afoot in government to fix that. In some jurisdictions, anything that’s two years old or older, they withdraw the charges. How’s that for an outcome? That happened in Ontario, a mass withdrawing of charges.”
The consequences of delayed court action are serious and can often have tragic results, according to Rudd.
“It happened here to a degree in Alberta, where some older charges were withdrawn, not voluntarily, but declared ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, and the charges were dismissed on that basis, and some of them were really tragic.”
Chair Ken Holst questioned Rudd about the possible reasons behind Taber’s expedited court record.
“What factors are happening in Taber that are allowing us to be way under that norm? Really, this is commendable — is this the officers doing a good job? Is there one thing that can lead to non-guilty pleas or dragged out processes? Is that contributing to that, the job that our officers are doing, or what would be the factor?”
Rudd placed much of the credit squarely at the door of efficient law enforcement practices and the quality work of local Crown prosecutors.
“It’s guilty pleas is what’s doing it, and your guilty pleas are based on the quality of the investigation that is done, and defence council having a look at it and saying there’s nothing here to run. We’d like to take credit for that. The Crown is doing a good job, too. That’s actually their process — we do our piece, give it to them, and they take it into the judicial realm. They do a really good job — they’ve got a high conviction rate. A lot of it is through guilty pleas, but that’s a conviction.”
Coun. Randy Sparks, who sits on the police commission, attacked the record of the provincial courts while pushing for reform of a system that he viewed as deeply flawed.
“I think the government needs to take a serious look at this, because it’s out of control. The officers do their job, they take all of the information they have and try to get a conviction. The game that is played by the authorities in the judicial system, and in the courthouse, is a joke. People that go there, know it’s a joke, and they continue to play that little game that takes for ever for something to happen. There needs to be a change in the way that it is handled, because it’s just not right. If you ever attend court and stay outside there and listen to the scuttle that goes on about the court system within our province — it’s a laughing matter. For it to be four months in Taber, that’s commendable. For cases to be dismissed because of the length of time it takes them to come to trial? That is something that should never happen.”
Rudd hinted the provincial government is investigating various solutions to help speed up court processes in the province, which could involve initiatives to help lighten the load — but he was against withdrawing cases based on the length of time they have spent before the courts.
“I participate on the Standing Committee On Prosecutions and Enforcement (SCOPE). It’s all of the police chiefs and chief Crowns in the province get together a couple of times a year. There’s a subcommittee of that group working on exactly this issue, and bringing forward solutions, and some of those solutions include withdrawing charges. That’s just unacceptable to the chiefs, that we just wholesale withdraw charges. It’s contrary to everything that we stand for, and so we’re not encouraging that.”