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Fix sheriff shortage, ongoing courtroom closures, Falcon tells NDP

Attorney General Niki Sharma says next two rounds of recruitment should fix problems.
B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon says courtroom closures are contributing to societal problems.

B.C.’s legislative opposition leader wants the NDP government to explain why recommendations to fix B.C.’s sheriff service have not been implemented and instead have led to ongoing court closures.

“It’s all contributing to this societal disorder and chaos we’re seeing out there,” B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon told Glacier Meda. He said he’s never seen such a significant problem in the justice system.

Attorney General Niki Sharma said new sheriffs have already graduated from the Justice Institute of B.C. and have begun work in the courts. She said 34 graduated last week with 50-60 more in the coming weeks.

“It will be three weeks after graduation that they will be able to do all things,” Sharma said.

“That’s the largest graduating class we’ve had in recent memory,” she said, adding recruitment continues and appears to be paying dividends.

Sharma said new sheriffs are being targeted to work in courthouses where risk of courtroom closures are higher than in other areas, citing Surrey as one.

“We’re hoping the next two rounds of recruitment should bring us back to a full sheriff service,” she said.

The latest class graduated on June 18 with 34 recruits; another 19 are expected to graduate on July 10; and another 24 are expected to graduate Oct. 1, for a total of up to 90 new sheriffs joining the workforce this year, the ministry said. 

Another class of 24 recruits will begin training in November, and will graduate in February 2025, bringing the total estimated number of new sheriffs in training this year up to 114.


The recommendations were in a report done for the chief sheriff, a report the Trial Lawyers Association of BC (TLABC) pointed to earlier this week as they also demanded action from Sharma.

The report covered service recruitment and retention challenges underlying the province’s ongoing sheriff shortage crisis. A further report addressed sheriffs dealing with high-pressure and challenging situations involving individuals in crisis that can contribute to chronic stress and fatigue.      

The association said the first report highlighted a number of concerning findings, including:

•  The BC Sheriff Service (BCSS) lost nearly 12 per cent of its sheriffs in one year, and the rate of attrition is rising: “...since fiscal year 2020-21, the attrition rate has sharply increased and stands at 11.7 per cent as of the fiscal year-end for 2022-23;”

•  It was “estimated that 40-50 per cent of sheriffs have a second job” to overcome low pay in the BCSS;

• “Unsuitable radios and communications infrastructure... [deputy sheriffs] feel like their safety is not valued;”

• “sheriffs expressed frustration regarding delays and difficulties in obtaining appropriate uniforms;”

• “concerns about insufficient safety equipment or equipment of questionable quality;” and,

• “Lack of security gates... without security gates, the job of sheriffs can be more difficult, and there is a greater risk that dangerous items may enter the courthouse.”

TLABC president Michael Elliott called on the government to fix basic things such as a lack of safety equipment, bad radios, courthouses without any security gates to check for weapons, and low pay. The latter, he said, leads to other law enforcement agencies routinely hiring newly recruited sheriffs.

Falcon said he was “appalled but not surprised” that the attorney general’s ministry has not acted on the report.

Sharma, however, said the ministry continues to work on the recommendations.

“We’ve been hitting the ground hard in implementing these recommendations,” she said, adding she continues to listen to sheriffs to understand their concerns.

Sharma acknowledged retention of sheriffs as other law enforcement agencies lure them away is an issue.

“We know our sheriffs are really highly trained,” she said. “Everybody’s recruiting right now.”

She hopes a recruitment and retention bonus will ease that situation.

The attorney general said there has been a focus on getting sheriffs for northern B.C. where a shortage has been “chronic.”

The B.C. Conservative Party did not respond to Glacier Media's requests for comment.

Neither Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau nor deputy leader Adam Olsen were available for comment.

Sheriffs’ pay

Both Falcon and Elliott said sheriff pay was an issue.

Sharma confirmed Dec. 29 that provincial court judges would receive a 28.4 per cent salary increase over the next four years.

The province’s 131 full-time provincial court judges are now being paid $343,000, up from the $288,500 annual salary they had earned since April 1, 2022.

The bump in pay was retroactive to April 1, 2023, and the judges will also receive interest on that retroactive increase, the ministry said.

Crown prosecutors will also receive a 28.4 per cent increase over the next four years under their collective agreement, also announced in December. Senior Crown prosecutors are now making $291,000, an increase from $244,000 the previous year.

In November, Vancouver police officers voted 96.9 per cent to accept a tentative agreement reached with the police board and city that came with pay raises of 4.5 per cent retroactive in 2023 and another 4.5 per cent in 2024.

A constable with five years on the job can expect to earn $116,000 in the first year of the new contract and see that salary increase to almost $122,000 in 2024.

In contrast, a deputy sheriff makes $67,729 to $77,012; a sergeant $73,856 to $84,135; and a staff sergeant $83,071 to $94,790, the report to the chief sheriff said.

The union representing the sheriffs says exit surveys in recent years indicate 80 per cent of sheriffs who leave the service point to wages as their number one reason for departing.

“Why are they giving double-digit increases to professional staff and not to sheriffs?” Falcon asked. “At the same time, the NDP handed over generous increases to political staff and themselves.”

Sharma said the government wants “to make sure sheriffs are compensated fairly” during the next round of contract negotiations.

Falcon said B.C. United’s platform calls from a reform of the bail system as well as a re-examination to the safe supply approach to dealing with the overdose crisis.

“Safe supply has contributed to wholesale disorder on the streets,” he said.

Ongoing closures

The trial lawyers noted that, on May 27, 2024, two high-profile cases were delayed in B.C. Supreme Court due to the unavailability of sheriffs, leaving numerous lawyers and prosecutors idle and compromising the judicial process.

“This is not an isolated incident; courtroom closures due to sheriff shortages have become increasingly common across the province, including in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Port Coquitlam, and Surrey,” Elliott said.

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.

Criminal defence lawyer Jayde Niefer said criminal, civil and family law cases were affected by June 17 Surrey courtroom closures. The BC Civil Liberties Association has also expressed concerns.

Sources now tell Glacier Media there have been closures and court delays in Chilliwack throughout the week of June 17-21 due to the shortage.