B.C. hires more sheriffs to avert trial delays

Judges paused some cases over courtroom security

After years of attrition B.C. is hiring more sheriffs to guard court rooms.

The province is hiring and training 36 new auxiliary sheriffs in a move expected to help avoid further trial delays from insufficient courtroom security.

It represents a net increase of 30 sheriffs over and above the government’s commitment in June to restore the hours of auxiliary sheriffs that had been cut in May.

This spring’s reductions, equivalent to the loss of 34 full-time positions, and coupled with a shift to a system of roving on-call sheriffs, prompted several judges to raise safety and security concerns and postpone trials.

Acting Attorney-General Shirley Bond said the new recruits should be on the job by December and will “help minimize the risk of court delays resulting from staff shortages going forward.”

Sheriffs’ union spokesman Dean Purdy applauded the increase.

“This is a move in the right direction,” he said. “It will help to ease the pain in the court system.”

But Purdy estimated B.C. will still remain 70 to 100 sheriffs short of the number it had roughly three years ago, before their ranks were reduced through attrition.

Provincial officials contend the gap will be less than half as big as the union claims.

Purdy said sheriffs wages top out at $54,000 a year and many leave for higher-paying law enforcement jobs with the RCMP or Transit Police.

Fifteen of the new recruits will serve in the Lower Mainland. Victoria will get five and Prince George and Kelowna both get three; Fort St. John and Nanaimo each get two; Smithers, Cranbrook and Campbell River get one each.

Bond said the government plans to recruit a second group of new sheriffs starting in January.