CALGARY - Calls are mounting for Ottawa to swiftly appoint more judges after a first-degree murder charge was stayed in Edmonton because of unreasonable delay in getting an accused to trial.
Alberta MP Michael Cooper, the Conservative deputy justice critic, is urging Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to immediately fill dozens of vacancies across the country, including at least nine on Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench.
"It's time for the minister to stop talking about appointing judges and actually get around to appointing judges," Cooper said. "Otherwise, thousands of cases across Canada could be thrown out due to delay."
A jury trial was to begin next week for 29-year-old Lance Matthew Regan, who was accused of stabbing to death fellow inmate Mason Tex Montgrand at Edmonton Institution in August 2011.
But on Friday a Court of Queen's Bench judge stayed the murder charge due to the long delay.
That wait — more than 62 months — was more than twice as long as what a Supreme Court ruling this summer deemed reasonable.
In setting aside drug convictions in British Columbia for Barrett Richard Jordan, the top court laid out a new framework for determining whether a person's right to a timely trial had been infringed.
It said an unreasonable delay should be found in cases that take 18 months in provincial court or 30 months in a superior court to get to trial from the time an accused is charged.
Wilson-Raybould said the government is working to modernize Canada's criminal justice system and address delays.
"This week I am meeting with provincial and territorial ministers of justice and public safety to address this very important question," she said in a statement issued by her office.
"In June, we filled pressing judicial vacancies at the federal level by drawing on existing lists of recommended candidates. Additional appointments will be announced in the near future.
"However, a concerted effort is required to tackle the many factors that contribute to delays in our courts."
Ian Savage, president of the Calgary-based Criminal Defence Lawyers' Association, figures there are 12 to 15 fewer judges than what Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench needs to handle its volume of cases in a timely manner.
He adds that resources are also tight at the provincial court level. And it's the worst possible time for there to be delays in Alberta's justice system, Savage said.
"Everyone knows that when the economy goes sour, crime rates — especially petty crime, property crime — go up because more and more people are out of work. More and more people are desperate to support themselves and their families and will turn to petty crimes to do that," he said.
"More and more people will turn to substance abuse and mental health issues will increase. And all of that leads to an increase in crime and the system is becoming overwhelmed with the volume as well."