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The 2017 Justice Summit: Improving the Criminal Justice System in Alberta

Jan 31, 2018

The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta is working hard on improving the province’s criminal justice system – including finding better ways to serve the public – as part of its active role stemming from the 2017 Justice Summit in Alberta.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley organized the Justice Summit, held in Edmonton on April 17 and April 18, 2017, and representatives of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta and the Provincial Court of Alberta attended it. Other criminal justice system organizations represented at the Summit included the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General Crown Prosecution Service, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the Alberta Crown Attorney’s Association, the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association (Edmonton), the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association (Calgary) and the Canadian Bar Association Criminal Section. Also in attendance were officials from the Calgary Police Service, the Edmonton Police Service, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, the RCMP, Legal Aid Alberta, Corrections, the Public Security Division, and Resolution and Court Administration Services.

The Justice Summit discussed issues arising from the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v Jordan. The 2016 decision rejected the framework traditionally used to determine whether an accused was tried within a reasonable time under section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Instead, it replaced it with a presumptive ceiling of 18 months between the charges and the trial in a Provincial Court without preliminary inquiry, or 30 months in Superior Court, which handles the most serious crimes such as murder.

While the initial objective of the Justice Summit related to meeting Jordan targets for bringing matters to trial, it quickly moved to broader systemic issues facing the justice system in Alberta.

Justice David Gates and Justice Paul Belzil are members of a subcommittee working on moving cases through the system. Justice Gates, who is also chairing a subcommittee tasked with building and sustaining public confidence in the justice system, sees important opportunities for the Court to re-focus its relationships and connections with the outside world.

“I feel strongly that our largely self-imposed isolation is not serving us well,” said Justice Gates. “More important, it is not serving the public.”

Justice Gates also spoke about the novel approach of the Court working together with other players in the Alberta justice system, such as Crown prosecutors, defence lawyers, government administration, corrections, police and Legal Aid Alberta.

“I see no conflict between working more closely with others on matters of mutual interest while retaining the independence of the judiciary and the traditions of our Court,” said Justice Gates.

Two areas being studied by the Public Confidence subcommittee are improving and enhancing the way in which Albertans experience the justice system firsthand, whether as victims, witnesses, jurors, accused persons or members of the public, and building long-term knowledge and understanding of the justice system through education.

The Public Confidence subcommittee is also looking at ways of getting justice system stories out to the public, including through the use of social media, the mainstream media and active outreach and community engagement strategies.

Along with Justice Gates, the Public Confidence subcommittee is made up of  Medicine Hat Police Service Chief Andy McGrogan, who is also the current president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police; Kim Sanderson, Assistant Deputy Minister, Correctional Services Division, Justice and Solicitor General; Fiona Lavoy, Executive Director of the Policy and Planning Services Branch, Corporate Services Division, Justice and Solicitor General; Shaina Leonard, Deputy Chief Federal Prosecutor of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada; and Cheryl Armstrong, Director, Planning, Research and Project Management Strategic and Business Services, Justice and Solicitor General.

The other subcommittees struck at the Summit are looking at Indigenous Issues, Restorative Justice and the Impact on Legal Aid by the Jordan decision.

All participants are to meet next on June 6, 2018.