Yukon courts and the RCMP have cut non-essential services for the coming weeks amid the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The Whitehorse Correctional Centre is also adjusting its operations to deal with the situation.
The Yukon Supreme and territorial courts announced new operational measures separately on March 17. Where hearings are required, appearances are to be done by video or teleconference whenever possible. In territorial court, most non-essential matters have been moved to the week beginning May 31.
There will be no travelling to the communities for circuit court. Any matters where the accused is not in custody will be moved ahead at least two regular scheduled court circuits; cases that have been scheduled and in which the accused is not in custody will be adjourned to June 4 or later fixed date court in Whitehorse; and show-causes will be conducted as scheduled from the community.
Typically, when there are arrests in communities, the accused makes a show-cause appearance by phone from their local RCMP detachment with the Crown, duty counsel and a justice of the peace sitting in Whitehorse.
Show-causes in Whitehorse will be conducted by video appearance from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
For the domestic violence treatment and community wellness courts, all first appearances will be adjourned to a later date, while those already with cases in those courts will have their matters adjourned for at least 10 weeks.
Wednesday docket court has been adjourned until at least June 3 with judges’ docket matters to either proceed as scheduled or be adjourned to June 5 and non-urgent small claims court matters moved to at least May 31.
Trials, preliminary inquiries and sentencing hearings will be “presumed to proceed as expeditiously as possible” using technology where possible for all in-custody matters.
Any urgent child protection cases will proceed with parties to attend by teleconference where possible with all other matters moved to June 4 or later.
Emergency orders and protective orders will proceed with teleconferencing in place for those involved to attend.
Traffic, ticket and bylaw matters will be moved to a later date. Notices of new court dates will be sent out by mail.
People with court matters scheduled in the coming weeks are strongly encouraged to have a lawyer attend on their behalf.
Those without counsel who have matters already scheduled can call the court registry at 867-667-3429 or 1-800-661-0408 to set up a phone appearance.
Territorial courtrooms will be closed to the public with the exception of those required for a court matter or if the court orders others.
Those permitted will include counsel, parties to the case, witnesses, probation officers, Crown witness coordinators, victim services workers, support workers and the media.
“Further, in the event that an individual who would otherwise be in the courtroom shows symptoms of COVID-19, that individual will not be allowed in the courtroom,” the announcement reads.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court of Yukon announced scheduled cases would be heard by teleconference and judicial settlement conferences will be adjourned.
No jury trials will happen in March, April or May.
Any Supreme Court in-custody appearances will be done by videoconference.
“For urgent or emergency civil or family matters, lawyers may speak to the trial coordinator for a telephone case management conference with a judge to determine when and if the matter may proceed,” the announcement says.
“Court staff will take all precautions to stay healthy, if possible, but the court expects to be working with minimal staff.”
At the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) a pandemic plan is in place, assistant deputy minister of Justice Al Lucier said in a March 17 interview.
He noted there is currently a lower population at the jail and officials are working with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Brendan Hanley, and medical staff at the jail to ensure the safety of WCC staff and clients. Along with increased cleaning and sanitation measures, inmates are checked for symptoms upon arrival and can be moved to isolation if required. So far, that has not been the case. Staff are working to keep the jail as closed an environment as it can be, limiting contact where possible. Video conferencing is in place and will be used for court appearances, he said.
As of March 17, families were still able to visit inmates as previously scheduled, but Lucier said there may be additional protective measures put in place such as barriers between inmates and family members. The jail will also be extending telecommunications options “to the extent possible” for inmates to reach their families. Lucier highlighted the importance of balancing inmates’ needs and freedoms while also protecting the health of inmates and staff.
Personal visits to inmates were suspended as of March 24 until further notice. Inmates are being provided two free phone calls a day and professional visits, such as ones with lawyers, are still permitted, although a physical barrier will be in place between visitors and inmates to prevent droplet and contact transmission.
As for RCMP, all non-essential services were suspended March 18.
Among those are criminal record checks, vulnerable sector checks and fingerprinting for non-criminal matters.
“Yukon RCMP maintains our commitment to keeping our communities safe throughout this time and will continue to conduct essential police services as normal,” Yukon RCMP Commanding Officer C/Supt. Scott Sheppard said in the statement. “We are consulting regularly with Yukon Government health officials and Federal health officials and will continue to evaluate when we can resume all non-essential police services.”
Residents are reminded to call 911 for emergencies or 867-667-5555 for non-emergencies to report a crime or file a complaint.
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