Concerns over courtroom sheriff shortages arise after sentencing delayed in Edmonton
EDMONTON – Concerns are being raised about a shortage of courthouse sheriffs after a high-profile sentencing was delayed in Edmonton Friday morning.
Justice Larry Anderson was forced to delay sentencing for Paul Vukmanich — the man responsible for the stabbing death of police service dog Quanto — for more than four hours because there was no sheriff available to escort the offender to the courtroom.
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“It’s appalling that they don’t have a single sheriff to accomplish that very simple task,” said D’Arcy DePoe, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association.
“It’s completely unacceptable and quite frankly alarming that there aren’t sufficient resources and sheriffs,” added Wildrose Justice Critic Shayne Saskiw. “We can’t have a justice system where people aren’t getting sentenced because of a lack of resources.”
READ MORE: Man responsible for Quanto’s death sentenced to 26 months
Anderson expressed frustration in the courtroom Friday, saying this isn’t the first time it’s happened. He also called it disappointing because both the Crown and the Defense were prepared for sentencing.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Alberta Justice said:
“We are looking into what caused the problem this (Friday) morning and will work with our court services people and the judiciary to see what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future.
In order to further enhance the existing levels of safety in Alberta’s courthouses, a comprehensive review of courtroom security is currently being undertaken to identify new security opportunities.
Alberta’s courthouses are safe ̶ and include multiple layers of security. Sheriffs’ courtroom staffing is based upon potential security risks. Sheriffs will always be in attendance when there is a person in custody or an identified security concern. Often sheriffs are not needed, such as in non-contentious and non-dangerous cases, or when it’s just lawyers in the room-and many judges and Justices recognize this.”
This isn’t the first time a lack of resources in the courtroom has been criticized. In 2011, during a child pornography case, there was no sheriff available for courtroom security. The judge adjourned the case and called out the system saying: “this is an ongoing and unacceptable problem.”
“The people before these courts ought not to have security compromised because resources aren’t expended to provide security for the courtroom,” Justice Terry Clackson told reporters in 2011.
On that same day, five criminal courtrooms went without security, according to the court’s Associate Chief Justice John Rooke.
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis says Friday’s case is the first time he’s been made aware of the problem.
“There are already four levels of security throughout the court. I look forward to chatting with the judges about this particular incident, but we do not believe there is a shortage of sheriffs in Edmonton.”
But DePoe believes the issue is part of a bigger problem — “a significant underfunding of the justice system.”
“The justice system is basically held together by spit and bailing wire. It’s only going to get worse because the population in this province is growing by leaps and bounds.”
With files from Laurel Gregory, Global News.
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