Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Courts in crisis: Sheriff shortage closes Vancouver courtrooms

"The wheels of justice have come to a screeching halt today."
Courtrooms closed at Vancouver Provincial Court June 13 due to a sheriff shortage.

Vancouver Provincial Courthouse went into crisis mode June 13 as a sheriff shortage led to closures of five courtrooms.

Sources told Glacier Media the courthouse lost five deputies to the Vancouver Law Courts which houses B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal so those courts could operate. Meanwhile, Glacier Media learned of three courtroom closures in Port Coquitlam.

It was only a week ago that The Trial Lawyers Association of BC called on the provincial government to take action on the ongoing sheriff shortage that has led to courtroom closures and delayed trials.

Association president Michael Elliott said the shortage “is a severe issue that directly impacts the administration of justice.”

Now, said veteran defence lawyer Leo Fumano, “the wheels of justice have come to a screeching halt today because of the sheriff shortage.”

Fumano, who spends much of his time at the Vancouver courthouse, said the closure of courtrooms on two floors of the 222 Main St. courthouse has resulted in the halting of a sexual assault sentencing as well as an extortion case.

The sentencing submissions in a case of offering an indignity to a dead body is proceeding because victim family members had come from overseas.

“There’s been a shortage of sheriffs in this building for a number of years,” Fumano said. “Retaining sheriffs here seems to be an issue.”

He said deputies have been lost to the Surrey police, RCMP and other agencies.

In an unattributed statement to Glacier Media, the Ministry of Attorney General said, "Sheriffs are moved on a daily basis within regions, based a number of factors, to ensure the best allocation of resources.

"There are 34 sheriffs graduating next week with another 20 graduating in early July, which will help alleviate some of the challenges courts are experiencing."

The ministry said the attorney general is in regular contact with the courts about sheriff resourcing issues.

The situation has been ongoing for a year or more with closures throughout the province as the government works to recruit and train sheriffs.

It was a year ago that a report to the chief sheriff indicated deputies were suffering from burnout and considering leaving the service for other law enforcement positions due to low pay and benefits.

The trial lawyers complained to Victoria after delays in two recent major B.C. Supreme Court cases — a murder case and a murder conspiracy case, both on May 27 — left numerous lawyers and prosecutors waiting, and compromised the legal process, said Elliot. 

Glacier Media has reached out to the courts asking if B.C. Chief Justice Leonard Marchand or B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson have reached out to the provincial government to deal with the worsening situation.

"The Superior Courts will not be making a statement responding to your inquiry," court spokesman Bruce Cohen said.

Glacier Media has also reached out to officers of Attorney General Niki Sharma and Premier David Eby.

The ministry has previously said intake for sheriff education at the Justice Institute of B.C. has been increased. Sharma has already acknowledged the problems created by the sheriff shortage. The provincial government, she said, is working on it.

Sharma’s office said it was looking into the issue while there was no response from Eby’s press secretary Jimmy Smith.