The extent of court case backlogs in Victoria remains unclear, but the provincial court system could have thousands of proceedings waiting in the queue.
Regular court operations were suspended in mid-March in response to COVID-19, with provincial files no longer accepted at the court registry and only urgent and essential matters heard in court. Eventually, other scheduled proceedings were heard via telephone, or audio or video conference.
On June 8, the provincial court in Victoria resumed in-person proceedings for priority matters that couldn’t be heard by conference. From July 6 onward, court operations resumed incrementally across B.C. and on July 13, provincial court registries resumed accepting all filings remotely or in-person.
But province-wide, thousands of cases had been scheduled between March 16 and July 3 – including 5,967 adult criminal trials and 20,239 traffic trials. Many were held virtually, but 967 family court trials, 240 child protection and 457 small claims cases were adjourned.
The Victoria Early Resolution Model helped some people resolve family issues outside the courts, and most other adjourned family files in Victoria were rescheduled, according to the Provincial Court of B.C.
But the potential for backlog is concerning for Gillian Lindquist, executive director at Restorative Justice Victoria (RJV), which offers restorative programs for people convicted on a wide range of offences – most commonly, crimes such as mischief, theft and various forms of assault.
“There’s going to be a big backlog in the court system, because the courts really came to a grinding halt,” she said. “People at various levels are going to be looking for ways to reduce that backlog. They’ll be looking at everything – but one of those is going to be diversion.
“We are anticipating that in the fall we’re going to get probably hit hard with cases.”
Lindquist says emergency COVID-19 funding through the Victoria Foundation has allowed RJV to bring on another staff member until March.
Stressors from COVID-19 could have a trickle-down effect too. Lindquist notes that RJV clients are experiencing high levels of stress.
“When people are experiencing that type of stress, they’re more vulnerable to having negative outcomes,” she said. “Including potentially re-engaging in [crime]. We’re seeing that and that’s something that might be ongoing for some time.”