BY SUZANNE FOURNIER AND JOHN COLEBOURN, POSTMEDIA NEWS
VANCOUVER – Vancouver’s already “overburdened” court system could be crippled by the looming load of charges against up to 700 alleged Stanley Cup rioters, say stakeholders in the B.C. justice system.
“There’s no question our court system is already overburdened and strained to the max, with the current shortage of judges, deputy-sheriffs and virtually all other resources,” said Dean Purdy, a spokesman for sheriffs, with the B.C. Government Employees Union.
“Trials are being delayed for months, if not years, as it is, or even abandoned due to delay of justice,” said Purdy.
Mark Benton, executive director of the Legal Services Society which runs B.C.’s legal aid plan, said “we are stretched to the limit right now.
“Dollars are tight. We don’t have any extra capacity and we would require more resources,” he said.
“The police have said they have 700 strong suspects. Even if only 400 go ahead, those will place significant pressure on Vancouver’s court system.”
Vancouver police have to date recommended a total of 163 charges against 60 people accused of taking part in the 2011 Stanley Cup riot.
The first set of charges approved target 25 people suspected of committing 61 offences, ranging from taking part in a riot to arson, theft and assault.
Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union said the charges also will tie up police officers.
“It is already difficult to get timely responses from the Crown for charge approval,” he said. “Any time you take a system that is overloaded and add more cases it is a challenge and it is a concern of ours.”
Given the level of proof needed for a conviction, Stamatakis said a great deal of time is needed on each case.
“It is very time-consuming,” he said.
And B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director David Eby agreed the court system will be stressed to the limit in the upcoming months.
“We are deeply concerned about the underfunding,” he said. “We know there are not enough prosecutors, judges and sheriffs and this could be where the court system breaks down.
“The reality here with these additional charges is they could completely overwhelm the system.”
Vancouver lawyer Michael Shapray, whose website advises that he will represent anyone accused of riot-related charges, predicted the cases “will have a dramatic impact on the Vancouver provincial court system.”
Shapray noted that courtrooms will require video equipment and trials will tend to be complex and more expensive than typical theft, mischief or arson.
“No one has got disclosure on these trials, but it’s going to have a dramatic impact, no matter which way you slice it, even if half enter guilty pleas,” predicted Shapray.
Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie said five prosecutors are going to handle all the riot charges. He said the Crown has yet to get a clear picture on how many individuals will be involved in the criminal proceedings.
“The police have indicated there could be hundreds of individuals,” he said.
MacKenzie also said the Crown is not commenting on whether the extra charges will impact the court system.
“At this point, we don’t want to speculate on the impact on the court system,” he said.
Last week, Vancouver police Insp. Les Yeo said police continue to work with prosecutors on more charges.
Many of the suspected rioters are 17-to 33-year-old men from the Metro Vancouver area, with one person from Seattle.
While most of the alleged rioters face two or three charges, a 20-year-old man is charged with six offences, including two of break-and-enter and three of mischief.
Rioters burned cars, smashed windows and looted stores on June 15, after the Vancouver Canucks lost the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Boston Bruins.
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