Yellowknife's courthouse building at night. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Court cases in the Northwest Territories are set to become further backlogged after a postponement notice was issued for Territorial Court in Yellowknife on New Year’s Eve.
The move comes as Covid-19’s Omicron variant reaches in the territory, which reported 160 active cases as of Friday and was braced for further spread of the virus as holiday travellers return.
Courts administrator Denise Bertolini stated the new orders will be revised as circumstances require.
The most impactful changes involve trials, preliminary inquiries, and sentencings scheduled in Yellowknife prior to February 14, which will be adjourned for rescheduling until at least February 15.
Docket days – scheduling court – for youth and adult criminal court scheduled prior to February 14 are adjourned to the Monday that falls exactly six weeks following the cancelled docket day.
Proceedings in Yellowknife’s civil and family courts will be conducted by teleconference unless otherwise allowed by the court.
From February 14, adult criminal docket days for individuals who are at liberty will be heard on Tuesdays at Northern United Place. Lawyers are encouraged to appear as agent for their clients where possible, to reduce the number of people showing up.
Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court and Wellness Court matters will be conducted remotely.
Circuit court in 16 communities – including the likes of Tuktoyaktuk, Behchokǫ̀, Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Ulukhaktok, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Fort Liard – will be rescheduled for late February at the earliest, meaning delays into mid-March and April.
Delays in court proceedings across the NWT started to mount after the initial pandemic-related slowdown in the late spring of 2020. Last fall’s fresh Covid-19 Delta-variant outbreak led to the suspension of trials in Territorial Court and delays on a case-by-case basis in Supreme Court.
Bail hearings in Yellowknife will continue to be conducted via video link to the jails.
Members of the public can attend court proceedings but must be screened, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and observe physical distancing of two metres where possible.
Operations in NWT Supreme Court haven’t changed since its Covid-19 directive was last updated on May 27.
The logjam in Yellowknife courts caused by Covid-19 began to be addressed in mid-November as hundreds of cases moved forward in a series of docket courts at the downtown Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.
Many of the more serious cases now being heard in Territorial Court will move to NWT Supreme Court, which is also backed up. For example, there are currently just under 80 pending jury trials.
Under Canadian law, the Jordan framework – which assesses whether an accused is tried within a reasonable time – sets 30 months as the limit in Supreme Court.
The second jury trial in the NWT since the pandemic’s onset is scheduled for January 17 in the multiplex’s DND gym.
Levi Cayen faces murder and robbery charges in connection with the death of Alex Norwegian in the Hay River area on Boxing Day 2017.