Low pay contributes to B.C sheriff shortage: Eby

Trials have been delayed in courthouses across the province

Taxpayers are footing the bill to fly sheriffs around British Columbia as the province grapples with a chronic shortage of the courtroom staff and frustrated judges speak out about delayed and stayed cases.

Attorney General David Eby said the government is working to train more sheriffs to provide courtroom security while dealing with the problem of police forces luring recruits with higher pay.

“We have a very serious issue with a shortage of sheriffs in the province and we are currently flying some sheriffs from courthouse to courthouse to make sure we have enough sheriffs to keep courthouses open,” Eby said in a recent interview. “It’s obviously a significant public expense to do that.”

READ: Kamloops sheriffs being flown into Victoria to deal with shortage

Eby said part a $20 million NDP platform commitment has been earmarked to deal with the shortage, and he’s concerned the issue could erode public confidence in the justice system.

Lack of sheriffs is a long-standing problem that surfaced under the previous Liberal government, Eby said, adding a low salary is one of the key retention issues.

“Many of them are being hired to work as police officers instead of staying on to work as sheriffs because of very significant pay disparity between working as a sheriff in court and being a police officer,” he said.

Chief provincial court judge Thomas J. Crabtree said court facilities can’t operate without appropriate security.

“B.C. Sheriff Services members are located in each courthouse across the province to ensure the safety of court users while on court property and in courtrooms, including members of the public, witnesses, victims, the judiciary, legal counsel and parties,” Crabtree said in a statement.

Dean Purdy, vice-president of Corrections and Sheriffs Services for the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, said 14 deputy sheriffs have left in the last four weeks and 90 per cent of them have been recruited by police forces.

“They’re trying to plug holes where they can,” he said of sheriffs who escort the accused from holding cells and provide security in courtrooms. “They’re triaging the courts. They know which judges will squawk about not having security in their courtrooms and speak out and which judges won’t.”

The shortage of sheriffs has led to problems across the province and most recently on Vancouver Island, Purdy said. Two high-profile drug cases were among those thrown out in Victoria because a deputy sheriff wasn’t available.

A trial delayed for hours last week in Victoria because there was no sheriff had a provincial court judge calling the situation “appalling.”

“We’re pleased to see that judges are speaking out about this issue because the security and the safety of the public and the courts and court staff is paramount,” Purdy said.

There’s a $36,000 gap between the top average salary of a sheriff and a police officer, and that has RCMP and municipal forces, along with transit police in the Vancouver area, ”actively and aggressively recruiting both correctional officers and sheriffs,” Purdy said.

“It costs approximately $30,000 to train a new recruit and it just doesn’t make sense from a fiscal standpoint, and I know you certainly wouldn’t run a business that way, to pay for new recruits to be trained, bring them in, only to have them leave, sometimes months later,” he said.

“We’re not saying that both corrections and sheriffs need to be paid the same as police, because they’re not police, but they need to close that gap about half way just so they can retain good, highly trained sheriffs and correctional officers because they’ll continue to leave as long as that incentive of a significantly higher wage is right there in their sight.”

Sheriffs are required to pay back $11,000 of the training cost if they leave in the first two years of their job, Purdy said.

Union representatives are scheduled to meet with Eby on Oct. 17, the second meeting with the new attorney general since last month, he said.

Bentley Doyle, spokesman for the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., said limited court time is wasted when trials don’t go ahead because a sheriff isn’t available.

“In that sense, sheriffs and judges are equally important, as both are required in order to make the system run,” he said in an email statement.

“There are too many cases in need of trial time. Courtrooms cannot be dark during the workweek. Justice delayed far too often ends up being tantamount to justice denied.”

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

British Columbia

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ucluelet’s Terrace Beach Resort is for sale

The commercial offering of 21 suites and cabins was recently listed for $4,495,000

Young tourist caught untying boats from Ucluelet dock

“He was just untying the boats and watching them float away,” said Harbour Master Kevin Cortes.

Feds announce $8.3M to deal with ‘ghost’ fishing gear in B.C. waters

Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight

Ucluelet RCMP warns of scammers impersonating police

“Police will never demand payment of any kind to get rid of an arrest warrant.”

B.C. identifies 20 new COVID-19 cases, travellers specified in count

Pandemic total 3,028 cases, 51 people from outside Canada

Campaign aims to raise $50K for young family of deceased Vancouver Island skydiver

James Smith, 34, died July 5 following incident in Nanoose Bay

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

B.C. ports part of data integration project to protect marine ecosystems

The $1.2 M federally funded program will draw crucial baseline data from Canada’s three coastlines

Filing deadline in RCMP sexual-harassment class-action extended due to COVID-19

Plaintiffs now have until January 2021 to submit claims for up to $222,000

Jamie Bacon pleads guilty to charge in Surrey Six case

The plea brings an end to a complex legal case that has spanned more than a decade

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

RCMP disarm man experiencing mental health crisis

The male pulled a knife on officers and then held it to his own throat expressing a desire to die

Most Read