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‘We’re at a critical point’: Alberta prosecutors too overloaded to take cases to trial

Hundreds of Calgarians charged with crimes go free due to prosecutor shortage
WATCH: The Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association says dozens of low complexity trials are being stayed each month due to a lack of prosecutors. As Tracy Nagai reports, the province has promised help is on the way.

Troubling numbers have come to light about the number of cases being stayed in Calgary due to a lack of prosecutors.

“There’s been entire days of low complexity trials that have been stayed due to a lack of prosecutors to prosecute them,” Matthew Block with the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association said.

Low complexity files take less than half a day to prosecute and include offences such as shoplifting, mischief and assault.

READ MORE: ‘Experience is departing:’ Alberta prosecutors worried as numbers dwindle

The ACAA said that on average, according to its members, one low complexity trial day is being stayed per week and in some cases it can be up to three days.

Each day sees an average of about five trials.

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“The workload for prosecutors has been increasing for years now and its sort of reached a more critical point,” Block said.

“These are prosecutable files and in the public interest to proceed.”

The association said the situation is just as dire in Edmonton but is being handled differently.

While full courtrooms aren’t being stayed, the association said that from March to June of this year more than one hundred files weren’t prosecuted.

READ MORE: Doug Schweitzer shares his vision for Alberta ahead of UCP vote

“This is sort of a symptom of larger problems,” Block said. “There’s creaks and groans like this throughout the system and there are other charges that are being stayed for less obvious reasons.

“The justice system in Alberta is underfunded and there’s going to be people where there is no real justice for them.”

“We don’t need to go and board up our doors,” said Doug King a Justice Studies professor at Mount Royal University. “We should, as a city and as a province, realize there is a cost to maintaining justice in a community.”

The United Conservative Party has promised to hire 50 new prosecutors to help with the workload.

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At a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said an announcement would be coming from the justice minister in the “not too distant future.”

“The first responsibility of government is to maintain public safety,” Kenney said. “The notion that criminals are getting off scot-free simply because we have inadequate number of prosecutors is, to me, totally unacceptable.”