Accused drug trafficker walks free from Victoria courthouse due to sheriff shortage

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Accused drug dealer walks free due to sheriff shortage
WATCH: A shortage of sheriffs in Victoria caused a judge to stay charges against an accused drug dealer, allowing him to walk free. Neetu Garcha reports – Feb 21, 2017

An accused drug dealer walked away  from a Victoria courthouse a free man on Friday, not because his innocence was proven, but because a sheriff wasn’t available to escort him from a cell to a courtroom, both of which are in the same building.

“I am bothered and offended by the fact that serious charges are dismissed because of something as a lack of court staff,” Victoria defence lawyer Tom Morino said.

For years, there has been a shortage of court staff in B.C., from clerks and bailiffs to sheriffs. The problem is especially bad in Victoria.

“They’re bringing in deputy sheriffs from the Lower Mainland, putting them up in hotels, at a cost, so they’re really robbing Peter to pay Paul here,” Dean Purdy, chair of the B.C. Government and Employees’ Union (BCGEU)’s corrections and sheriff services component, said.

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READ MORE: Shortage of court clerks, sheriffs affecting B.C. trials

The issue, and what happened Friday, dominated the start of question period at the B.C. Legislature Monday.

“The accused should have been in court on the Monday, failed to appear, came into custody during the week, the case was rescheduled later in the week, a late scheduling, so right on Friday morning, right at the time the court opened the resources were not available right then,” Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said during question period.

“The attorney general can stand in this house and say ‘technicality.’ It is not a technicality when an accused drug-dealing thug walks free in this province,” NDP MLA Mike Farnworth said.

Purdy said the problem is retaining sheriffs who often leave their positions for higher paying law enforcement jobs.

“Police, SkyTrain police, border patrol and they make a lot more money than sheriffs. Sheriff’s top out at between $50,000 and $60,000 a year but you can go over to the transit police and make $90,000,” Purdy said.

Purdy said five years ago there were about 500 sheriffs in B.C. That number is now just over 400.



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