Premier Clark should keep her promise to fix the sheriff shortage

For Immediate Release

The current crisis in our court system was flagged as a major problem years ago and Premier Christy Clark should keep her promise to British Columbians to fix the sheriff shortage in B.C. courts, says the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

In 2011, Premier Clark called a news conference and announced that her government was taking steps to address the severe shortage of sheriffs in the B.C. court system, saying “It’s an issue that we have to confront and we have to make sure that our justice system is functioning at a high level. British Columbians want to know the people who’ve committed crimes pay the consequences for those crimes.”

“Six years after promising to fix the staff shortage in our Sheriff services, and the problem is worse than ever,” says BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. “Courts are grinding to a halt and criminals are being set free for the lack of a sheriff. It’s time for the premier to act on her promise and make sure our sheriff services are properly staffed.”

Budget cuts to sheriff services in 2011 saw the elimination of 34 full-time sheriff positions. The number of positions has steadily dwindled from a historical norm of about 525, to under 400 now, despite increased demand for justice services.

“Hiring and training new sheriff recruits is urgently needed,” says BCGEU Corrections and Sheriff Services Component vice president Dean Purdy. “But it’s one thing to hire new sheriffs and another to keep them. Sheriffs are the lowest paid peace officers in the province, and they know they can make a better wage in other justice sectors.

“Sheriffs currently make $56,000 - $60,000 per year on average. But they can readily upgrade into a police service position and make up to $100,000 with overtime. The government spends a lot of money training sheriffs. They need to put resources into market wage adjustments to retain quality peace officers.”

Recently, one B.C. Supreme Court case was thrown out and two provincial courts closed due to a sheriff shortage.

“This is a perfect example of being penny-wise and pound foolish,” says Smith. “Investing in
re-building our justice system is overdue, and is a wise use of public resources.”