EDITORIAL: Justice a B.C. election issue

Health care. Education. The HST.

There’s no shortage of hot-button issues clamouring for government attention as a possible B.C. election looms.

But there’s an even bigger elephant in the room, one that has been ailing for nearly a decade and by many accounts, is now in danger of collapsing.

B.C.’s legal system is in big trouble.

Justice Denied, the five-week Black Press investigation into the various components of the system, (published at www.nanaimobulletin.com) has revealed a precarious house of cards.

Provincial funding cuts dating back to 2003 have reduced the number of sitting judges, fuelling a trial backlog that increasingly lets criminals go free because of unconstitutional delays.

The result? More than 2,100 cases are now at risk of being tossed out of court due to waits that threaten to violate the accused’s right to be tried within a reasonable time.

The considerable efforts of  police officers are being wasted, not to mention the taxpayer money used to pay them for investigations, forensic work and testimony that are all for naught once the suspect walks.

But perhaps the hardest hit are the victims – regular people  impacted by crime who have no choice but to rely on a deteriorating legal system for relief.

The verdict on the possibility of a quick fix is grim. February’s provincial budget approved another $14.5 million in cuts to the judicial system for 2011-2012 – followed by a funding freeze for the next two years, until 2014.

Aside from health care, one would be hard-pressed to identify an issue that cuts across all walks of life and affects nearly everyone.

When the provincial writ is dropped, make this an election issue politicians can’t ignore. Fixing B.C.’s justice system must be among the top priorities.

Surrey Leader

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