“We don’t have enough judges in B.C., especially the North Island.”
– Judge Brian Saunderson, Jan. 11, 2012
Campbell River’s only full-time provincial court judge is now working part-time.
Judge Brian Saunderson took semi-retirement this month. So did Judge Peter Doherty who typically sits in Courtenay, but is often at the bench in Campbell River when Judge Saunderson is away on vacation or is sitting in Port Hardy or Gold River.
The two judges are expected to work a month on, a month off, and so far, no new full-time judge has been named to serve the North Island region.
This week, the Liberal government did appoint nine new provincial court judges, but the nearest one to Campbell River will be sitting in Nanaimo.
The semi-retirement of the North Island’s two most long-standing judges comes at a time when the government faces mounting criticism over a lack of provincial court judges across B.C.
This has led to lengthy delays in criminal cases being heard, some of which are tossed out of court due to the violation of the accused’s right to a speedy trial as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
One of the most infamous cases to be tossed happened last February in Campbell River when Judge Doherty issued a stay of proceedings against Cody Wellard, who was accused of shooting a family’s puppy on Quadra Island in September 2008. Wellard claimed it was hunting accident.
The dog belonged to the Rose family of Quadra whose son Max, then 12, was undergoing treatment for cancer. News of the dismissal of the two charges against Wellard infuriated Max’s father Nick Rose.
“It’s pretty upsetting. We’re getting a first-hand look at our legal system and it’s pretty pathetic,” said Rose after the charges were stayed.
Judge Saunderson predicts things won’t get any better.
“I think it will get worse with more delays and more successful (dismissal) applications,” the judge said last month, during an interview with the Mirror.
Judge Saunderson believes it is all about money and the provincial court system is not a “high priority” for the government. And he acknowledges the dismissal of charges, due to delays, are frustrating to victims, the public and police.
“A lot of well-prepared cases are tossed out,” he said.
Judge Saunderson did take the time though to praise the staff at the Campbell River courthouse. From the manager, to the clerks, to the sheriffs, Judge Saunderson said Campbell River has an efficient courthouse due to the professionalism of all the staff.
He was appointed to the bench in Campbell River on Jan. 16, 1991, the day of his wife’s birthday and the start of the first war in Iraq. He had first come to Campbell River in 1974, but had spent 21 years practising law in Vancouver before his appointment to the provincial court bench.
“It just kind of happened,” he recalled. “There was no formal process back then. Now it’s a massive application process.”
Judge Saunderson could have taken full retirement, but that’s not about to happen anytime soon.
“I couldn’t conceive of not working at all. It isn’t in my genes,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll be working every second month. I can retire at any time.”
Judge Saunderson will use his extra time off to travel and to ride his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle.