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'Crushed with workload': Vernon in need of more Crown prosecutors

President of the BC Crown Counsel Association says Vernon needs 50 per cent more Crown prosecutors to manage an increasingly complex workload
Vernon law courts. (Black Press file photo)

As court cases pile up and the complexity of those cases increases, the head of B.C.'s Crown counsel association says Vernon is in dire need of more prosecutors. 

Adam Dalrymple is the president of the BC Crown Counsel Association, which represents 550 Crown prosecutors around the province. Dalrymple told The Morning Star that Vernon currently has six full-time Crown prosecutors, but that's not enough to manage "some significant caseloads."

Dalrymple is calling on the employer of Crown prosecutors, the BC Prosecution Service, to increase Vernon's complement of Crown lawyers from six to nine, a 50 per cent increase. 

Dalrymple visited Vernon at the end of May to get a sense of the situation in the local Crown office, and to speak to Vernon mayor Victor Cumming about his concerns.

“When I met with our members (in Vernon), their morale was low. They are trying to fight. They care about the Vernon community. They live in the Vernon community. They want to do good, but they are going to burn out.”

Dalrymple says currently, there are only five Crown prosecutors in Vernon as one is on leave, which has added more stress on the Vernon office. 

"These prosecutors that are currently in Vernon, of which there are five, are being crushed with workload."

Dalrymple said he looked into historical staffing levels at the Vernon Crown office and found there were five or six prosecutors in Vernon in 2004, meaning staffing levels haven't increased in at least 20 years.

And to make matters worse, he said the complexity and the scale of prosecutions has increased dramatically since 2004, "and there has not been a commensurate increase in the number of prosecutors in the Vernon office."

Dalrymple pointed out that the Vernon office is handling a number of homicides, and there are other factors that are increasing prosecutors' caseloads. He said sexual assault cases, for instance, are becoming more complex as the case law around them evolves over time. 

The complexity of cases will only grow, Dalrymple said. He used the example of police body cameras, which he said haven't been implemented yet in Vernon "but I think they're coming." He described the arduous task facing Crown prosecutors of having to review hours of body cam footage in order to make a case based on all available evidence.

"That's just one example," he said.

Asked about Dalrymple's concerns, Damienne Darby, communications counsel with the BC Prosecution Service, said the service's regional management team has been working with the Vernon Crown office "to support the Crown to ensure operational needs are met."

As for the question of how many more Crown prosecutors Vernon is in need of, Darby said only that the BCPS "has not identified a need for 50 per cent more prosecutors." 

Darby said when workload pressures arise in Crown counsel offices, the region works together to support the local office. 

Darby acknowledged the added strain that having one person on leave could be putting on the Vernon office.

"Having even one person on leave can have a great impact in a smaller office and we do everything we can ease this pressure and provide back-fill."

Dalrymple said that while he hopes more prosecutors will be added to the Vernon Crown office, he doesn't want to see prosecutors "poached" from other nearby cities such as Salmon Arm and Kelowna, as these communities are also understaffed, albeit Vernon is where the staffing shortage is "most acute."

"(The BC Prosecution Service) needs to come up with a plan," Dalrymple said. "They need to have succession plans. There are senior prosecutors in the Vernon office that could potentially retire shortly."

Dalrymple said he's concerned for the health and well-being of the over-stretched Vernon prosecutors, but added he's also concerned about "larger principles" like the rule of law, keeping people safe and serving the community. 

Dalrymple noted that delays in charging suspects can arise when there aren't enough resources in a Crown office.

"People want justice and they want it quickly, and we get that," Dalrymple said. "That's part of why I'm here to try and advocate for more resources so that we can make decisions faster."




Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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