Nanaimo legal advocates hope the two new sheriffs will help minimize delays in court proceedings.
The province is hiring and training 36 new auxiliary sheriffs to work in courthouses in 10 communities across B.C., including two in Nanaimo and five in Victoria.
Nanaimo lawyer Clint Sadlemyer said hiring two more sheriffs is a step in the right direction because the province has let the numbers drop over the past few years.
About once or twice a month, Nanaimo court proceedings are delayed while waiting for a sheriff, he said.
Often it’s only a matter of minutes before a sheriff is available, but it doesn’t make economic sense not to have staff readily available when there’s a room full of lawyers, court staff and a judge waiting, said Sadlemyer.
The province might need to hire more than two new sheriffs to address the problem and the court system has also lost judges, court staff and Crown lawyers in recent years, he added.
Jackie Gaudet, a Crown counsel lawyer in Nanaimo, said just last week, a judge stopped proceedings while a sheriff took someone into custody downstairs after sentencing because there was not a second sheriff available.
The presence of a sheriff is vital because lawyers and the judge are dealing with people who are sometimes violent, have mental health issues or are on drugs and they are in an emotionally charged situation, she said.
“Our role is not always popular with some people,” said Gaudet. “We’re not dealing with nice people a lot of times. We have to be very careful.”
Dean Purdy, chairman of the corrections and sheriff services component of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, said the province has lost more than 100 sheriffs in the past couple years to better paying law enforcement jobs and they were not replaced due to a hiring freeze.
When the new recruits start, Nanaimo will have about 12 sheriffs, but Purdy believes the city had 14 or 15 several years ago.
Nanaimo NDP MLA Leonard Krog, Opposition critic for the attorney general, said hiring additional sheriffs is a positive step.
“I think it will hopefully ensure there won’t be wasted court time,” he said.
But the province has a ways to go to ensure that cases are resolved in a timely manner, Krog added, because there are still fewer judges and fewer sheriffs than in 2005.
Interim Attorney General Shirley Bond said in an e-mail that training for new recruits begins Aug. 31 and they will be available to start work in December.
She said the province is planning a second round of sheriff recruitments in January.