Manitoba courts detail challenges brought on by COVID-19 in new report

The Manitoba Provincial Court learned some hard lessons during the pandemic, and one Manitoba Judge says the system has come out on the other side stronger for it. Morgan Modjeski reports.

By Morgan Modjeski

The pandemic was a difficult time for Manitoba’s provincial court, creating a significant backlog for the justice branch, but one judge currently behind the gavel says it’s now better prepared than ever for a future pandemic. 

Difficulties caused by COVID-19 are detailed in the Provincial Court of Manitoba’s Annual Report for 2020-21, released today, in which the province’s Chief Judge explained while the courts were not prepared for the pandemic, they were able to adapt through expanded technology and communication.

“The justice system is a very traditional system. It’s based on tradition, it’s based on precedent and so certainly, we were challenged, but we’re stronger than where we were,” said Anne Krahn, Manitoba Provincial Court Judge.

Manitoba saw all of the province’s court regions experience an increase in the number of appearances in 2023 and worked through a total of 32,194 cases, but that’s a drop of 27 per cent when compared to the previous year.  

Krahn says the courts continued to serve its 57 communities as best as possible to ensure essential operations continued during COVID-19. 

“Certainly it challenged us to change the way in which we worked. Where worked. How we worked.” 

Ranked in severity from seven down, crimes like first and second-degree murder, manslaughter, and attempted murder made up less than one per cent of the total cases dealt with – accounting for 103 cases.

Lesser violations, like condition breaches, failure to attend court, and other matters cited as administration of justice, or AOJ, account for a significant number of cases – 13,718 – or 42.6 per cent. 

The report also found that the number of cases taking longer than 18 months has climbed slightly as well, increasing 2.8 over last year, with the pandemic again being cited as a potential factor, but the vast majority are completed within 18 months

“That’s the long-term commitment of our court, is to be more efficient with what we have and be faster with that we have,” said Krahn. 

Judge Krahn, who just finished a term as an associate chief judge, says while the past year was a challenging one for the courts — not just here in Manitoba, but across Canada — she’s confident they’ll be able to address the backlog stressed the courts are working to relieve pandemic pressures, with targeted resources flowing toward areas where backlogs are significant, like northern communities. 

“They are big issues, they are not easily solved, but I can tell you that you should have confidence, and the public should have confidence that we are very much aware of what those challenges are and are working with all of our partners to try and address those challenges.”

A statement from Manitoba’s Justice department indicated the government will continue to explore innovative solutions and technologies that will support greater access to justice throughout the province and says it’s “committed to working with the Provincial Court to improve Manitoba’s criminal justice system and reduce the remaining pandemic-related backlog.”

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