Red Deer traffic court moving to hotel

EDMONTON – In an effort to free up some space at the overcrowded Red Deer courthouse, the city’s traffic court – which serves all of central Alberta – is being moved into the Red Deer Lodge.

“Typically on a Monday morning, you would have two to 300 people coming in, either fighting tickets or pleading guilty. These people are all now going to be in the lobby of the hotel,” said Chris Rickards of the Central Alberta Bar Society.

Rickards admits he was quite shocked when he first heard about the move, but believes it will alleviate some pressure on the courthouse, that’s bursting at the seams. Still, he stresses that much more is needed.

“In Red Deer, we need double or triple the space we have right now, on a full-time basis. What this does, in the short-term, is it frees up one courtroom for one day,” Rickards said. “We have seven courtrooms. We should have at least 16.”

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The province has not yet approved construction of a new courthouse, so for now, the Red Deer Lodge will have a year-to-year contract to house the traffic court.

“It will be as similar to a courthouse setting as possible,” said the hotel’s general manager, Kevin Ritchie.

“It’s just located in our Gull Lake room, which will be easy access for our guests, or – for the guests of the court – to find their way to that area.”

If drivers plead guilty to a ticket, they will then have to leave the hotel and go back to the courthouse to pay their fine.

The transition plan has been in the works for a year. Aside from allocating space inside on Mondays and Tuesdays – when traffic court dates are schedule for – the hotel will also be providing parking; the province will be taking care of the security.

Jim Foster, a retired Queen’s Bench justice, says he applauds the initiative, but like Rickards, believes it’s just a band-aid solution. He calls the current Red Deer courthouse “dysfunctional.”

“And when a courthouse becomes dysfunctional it creates a crisis with everyone, including children and criminals. The courts can’t do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it.

“If we can’t give trials to criminals within a reasonable period of time the law is, and I think judges will soon be confirming this, the law is they get to walk. If that happens, boy oh boy, will the public be upset.”

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The traffic court’s move to the Red Deer Lodge officially starts April 1.

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News

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