The shredded records include bills of costs, factums, judgments, and notices of motion, says Alberta Justice spokeswoman Michelle Davio. They were evenly split between criminal and civil matters, she notes.
The incident happened as the records, which date back to 1993-95, were on their way to the provincial archives in Edmonton for storage when they mistakenly ended up with other materials marked for destruction.
“They were being sent to provincial archives for permanent storage,” says Davio, who says another government department, Service Alberta, had the task of transporting the documents. “They were mistakenly destroyed.”
The incident has left the government with the task of trying to recreate the records. That involves contacting other courts, Crown prosecutors, and the private bar to seek them out, says Davio. The government has been doing that since February and hopes to have the work complete by the end of October.
“They’re having quite a lot of success with the criminal records,” says Davio.
She adds that the incident should have no impact on the courts since no one would likely be using records that were heading to the archives. At the same time, the government is putting measures in place to prevent the mix-up from happening again, something that’s welcome news to George Somkuti, president of the Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association. He says the documents are largely of “academic importance” as the old records usually wouldn’t have any impact on current civil proceedings.
“When those kinds of documents are lost . . . they become less relevant over time,” he says.
Still, Somkuti notes the kinds of records lost, which in this incident largely involved documents filed at the earliest stages of an appeal, do have use for legal reporting services. Those services increasingly provide those documents to lawyers, he says, noting they offer useful insight into cases.
Somkuti adds he’d like to know more information about the affected cases but says he’s glad the government is working to prevent another incident.