A woman waiting 16 months for a judge to hear her child support case says she’s worried other families in the Peace Region are facing similar delays.
Trish Campbell is speaking out about court delays in Fort St. John more than a year into legal battle to get child support for her seven-year-old daughter.
“I don’t expect the courts to get blood from a stone, but I do expect them to follow through and give me my day in court,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s case has been in family maintenance since 2010, the year after her daughter was born.
If a judge grants a child support order, the matter falls to the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, which can suspend drivers licences and insurance coverage, claw back government money and even issue jail sentences for up to 90 days to extract payment.
Since Dec. 2015, the matter has gone before a judge four times, but each time the case was delayed.
“I still haven’t been before a judge because every time we go before the judge, there’s criminal matters,” Campbell said. “One guy got arrested twice in one day. My case get pushed to the side.”
Campbell is not currently receiving child support payments. “My concern is more, if it’s happening to me, how many other families is this happening to in Fort St. John?” she said.
Ministry of Justice officials say they’re taking steps provide more resources to the Fort St. John courts.
In an email, a ministry official said the B.C. government’s policies are reducing trial times overall. Caseloads, readiness of the participants, alternatives to court and rural judicial scheduling all have impacts on court delays, the ministry says.
“While we cannot comment on the specific family matter, we are aware that the Fort St. John courthouse faces a caseload volume and space pressures that is contributing to court delays,” the official wrote. “The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services are working to address the situation and determine viable options.”
B.C. NDP MLA Leonard Krog, the party’s Justice Ministry critic, says part of the issue is a new Supreme Court-mandated deadline requiring cases to be brought to trial within 18-24 months or risk being thrown out.
“They’ve worked hard to do that, but they’ve made it longer and harder to get family court provincial matters dealt with,” he said.
Another issue, he said, is “the Liberal cuts to court houses around the province.”
“It’s not Surrey where you have provincial court everyday day in and day out, it’s not Vancouver, it’s not the Lower Mainland. When a judge gets into a community like Fort St. John, the criminal cases always take priority—that’s the law—and the family matters are bumped down.”
“As the old cliche goes: justice delayed is justice denied,” he added.
Campbell and her daughter have since moved to Edmonton following the economic downturn in Northeast B.C. She’ll next travel to Fort St. John for court April 3, but has no guarantees a judge will hear the case that day. a
She hoped speaking out about the issue will draw attention to the shortage of court resources in B.C.
“There’s a process in place, and who is holding people accountable to ensure this process happens?” she said.