B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma is promising more money to fix a chronic shortage of sheriffs that has led to at least 86 court appearances being cancelled or delayed this year.
Sharma says the government is responding to an internal report that painted a damning picture of working conditions, including bullying and sexual harassment, for the people who transport prisoners and protect British Columbia’s courts.
That report found a years-old recruitment and retention crisis within the BC Sheriffs Service, problems it attributed to low pay, a toxic work environment and ineffective management.
In some cases, court appearances have been delayed, cancelled or moved because a sheriff was not available. The ministry’s office said there had been 86 such incidents this year as of Sept. 7; there were none in 2021 or 2022.
Kyla Lee, a criminal defence lawyer in Vancouver with Acumen Law, says she has had multiple cases where a trial was delayed because a sheriff was not available. She said such delays had a “snowball effect” because they lead to further delays in the court system as matters are re-scheduled.
“It’s really caused a lot of chaos for people. The experience of going to court is very stressful for people as it is,” Lee said.
But Lee believes sheriffs are still not paid enough. Sheriffs, she said, often protect judges when there are credible threats to their safety. They are armed and also transport accused persons in custody, she said, who include violent offenders and people with complex mental health and substance issues.
“They have to be mental health professionals. They have to be physical security. They have to be drug addiction and medical experts all at the same time in different courts,” Lee said.
The government’s information sheet for applicants notes sheriffs deal with “with unpleasant, upset, hostile, angry and potentially violent clients.”
Read the full story here.