In late January, an Ottawa judge stayed sexual assault charges against a 15-year-old boy who stood accused of attacking a three-year-old child at his mother’s daycare.
A few days later, in Manitoba, a similar case against a man accused of sexually assaulting a child was also halted in its tracks.
Then, on Tuesday last week, an Alberta prosecutor stayed 15 criminal cases at once, including ones involving assault with a weapon, impaired driving and assaulting a peace officer.
The trend is only expected to get worse, and stems from a Supreme Court ruling last July in the case of R. v. Jordan.
The ruling set a presumptive ceiling of 18 months of delay for cases in the provincial court, and 30 months for cases in Superior court, from the time the charge is laid until the end of the case. If proceedings drag on longer, it’s considered a violation of the rights of the accused.
“The Jordan decision didn’t really start this crisis … our justice system was already in crisis long before Jordan was even pronounced,” Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, told The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos this weekend.
“The Supreme Court of Canada just re-iterated that we all have to come together to solve this issue of delays in our court system.”
Cases have become more numerous, he explained, and more complex over time. That means more disclosure and more time in front of a judge.
“It’s already affecting Canadians,” said Woodburn. “We see out in Alberta, and this is the first I’ve ever heard of this, the Crown is staying charges as a result of a lack of resources. They’re being mandated to do that.”
The solution, he said, lies in funding for additional resources in the justice system. More judges, more lawyers, more courtrooms and more support staff.
Since 2006, Woodburn noted, budgets have been frozen or stayed the same. At the same time, alternative solutions to ease the backlog, like better triage, plea bargaining, streamlining the court process and diverting charges, haven’t worked.
The provinces rely on transfer payments to prosecute criminal offences, which means it’s up to Ottawa to increase the cash flow.
“There just hasn’t been the increase (in funding) along with the more serious crimes that are more prolific now than they used to be,” Woodburn said.
But there’s reason for optimism, he contends.
“While Jordan didn’t create this crisis, it certainly has brought it to the forefront of our governments. And I’ve seen reactions from our various governments that I haven’t seen in the last 15 years.”