No new judges for Alberta in 2021 federal budget: Ottawa says province didn't apply

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Alberta did not participate in a process to request funding for new federally appointed judges, leading to opposition charges that the UCP government failed to take steps to speed up the court system.

The federal Liberals’ budget implementation legislation, Bill C-30, includes millions of dollars for 13 new judicial positions on superior courts across Canada.

Despite frequent complaints from Alberta’s legal community about court backlogs, a Department of Justice official told a Senate committee hearing Wednesday that Alberta did not request funding, after questions from Alberta Sen. Paula Simons (a former Edmonton Journal columnist).

In a statement, the Alberta justice ministry said it was still waiting for the federal government to fill judicial positions approved in 2017, which it says sat vacant until last year.

Alberta NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir, however, accused the provincial government of missing a chance to relieve pressure on the justice system brought about by COVID-19 and the Supreme Court’s 2016 Jordan decision on trial timelines.

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“At a time when we are seeing pressures on our courts because of Jordan … and with COVID putting more pressures on our courts and resulting in delays, one would hope that government would make sure that we have all the judges that we need in our court houses,” said Sabir. “It’s unfortunate that this government didn’t even put in an effort to make that request.”

In 2017, the federal Department of Justice created a new process to evaluate requests for additional superior court judges, who in Alberta sit on the Alberta Court of Appeal and the Court of Queen’s Bench.

In the spring or early summer, the department issues a call for requests for additional judges, which are then evaluated to “develop business cases based on objective indicators of need for additional judicial resources,” the department said in a statement.

The Edmonton Law Courts, housing provincial courts, family courts, the Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench.
The Edmonton Law Courts, housing provincial courts, family courts, the Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Edmonton Sun

“This then allows the Minister of Justice and government as a whole to consider completed requests generally, in line with the annual federal budget cycle.”

The 2021 federal budget puts $49.3 million over five years toward establishing 13 new judicial positions, with an additional $10.4 million per year after that.

The funding covers five new judges for the Ontario Superior Court, two judges apiece for the B.C. Supreme Court, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench and the Tax Court of Canada, and one judge each for the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Alberta did not participate in the process that led to the Budget 2021 funding commitment,” Department of Justice spokesman Ian McLeod said, noting the 2017 budget funded 11 new Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench positions.

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In a statement, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General spokesperson Carla Jones said the government will “continue to to work with the court to ensure Alberta has an appropriate number of superior court judges and make requests to the federal government as required.”

“When the federal government last requested submissions for new judicial positions in 2019, the Court of Queen’s Bench was still waiting for the federal government to fill the judicial positions they approved in 2017,” she said. “It took until March 2020 for the federal government to fill them.”

Sabir did not know whether the Alberta NDP requested additional superior court positions in each of its years in government. He accused the UCP of consistently cutting budgets at a time when there is “a lot of pressure on our courts system.”

There are currently four vacancies on Alberta superior courts, out of a total of 126 positions. The process for the 2022 budget has not begun.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield


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