Retention key issue in B.C. sheriff shortage, says BCGEU

The union representing sheriffs says retention of staff is the main problem causing the sheriff shortage across the province.

BCGEU president Paul Finch says B.C. is at a critical point when it comes to retaining sheriffs.

“The problem is simply that there’s a broader labour market in place. That labour market means that it’s very attractive for sheriffs once they’ve been recruited to move on to other job opportunities within short periods of time,” he said.

“That’s creating a retention crisis,” Finch added. “The retention crisis is resulting in the shortages of sheriffs that is hampering the administration of justice.”

The issue was first highlighted by the Trial Lawyers Association of BC this past week, after seven courtrooms saw closures on Thursday in the Lower Mainland.

Association president Michael Elliot blames the province for the shortage, saying the legal system is severely underfunded.

“[The province has] ballooned the size of ICBC and the number of adjusters working for that Crown corporation, yet they seemingly ignored the sheriff shortage, which is now causing serious and dangerous issues to the administration of justice,” Elliot said.

Finch says that once sheriffs are recruited, they tend to move onto other jobs within a short period of time, which the government needs to address.

“We’re hopeful. And what we’re asking the attorney general and the government to do is really have a holistic strategy and undertanding of the broader labour market that sheriffs exist within and to put in place a retention strategy for sheriffs that will retain enough of them to provide the services for the administration of justice that British Columbians expect,” he said.

Elliot says the closures Thursday may have halted the court proceedings of both a sexual assault case and an extortion one.

He notes sheriffs play a unique role within the provincial justice system as they are a separate law enforcement agency.

B.C currently has roughly 550 deputy sheriffs that Elliot says are responsible for protecting judges and court officials, transporting accused persons in custody, conducting prison escorts, executing certain kinds of arrest warrants, and otherwise maintaining the safety of the province’s courts.

“Without them, court matters cannot proceed,” he said.

In a statement to CityNews, the province says it’s aware that retention and recruitment are issues that need addressing. The province says it’s actively working to bring in more sheriffs over the coming months.

“Recruitment and retention have been an ongoing challenge for the BC Sheriff Service, as it has been for other sectors and other law enforcement agencies across Canada,” the province said.

“We are working hard and taking actions based on feedback from sheriffs to improve workplace satisfaction and attract and retain more sheriffs. This includes more competitive pay and benefits. We’re seeing some early progress. This spring’s sheriff graduating class is the largest in recent memory, and the first group of them will be on the ground working in courthouses starting next month. There’s more to do, and we will continue to take action to strengthen our sheriff service so that our courts have the staffing they need.”

With files from Charles Brockman.

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