From Wally Oppal, QC, Attorney General of BC

Public shows support for community court

A series of public information sessions held this spring in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, central business district and west end communities gave the city’s residents a chance to comment on a new community court opening in their area next year.

Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court will hear most criminal offences, including drug possession cases, arising in its designated area. The court’s territory will range from Clark Drive in the east, through Stanley Park to the west, with Great Northern Way as the southern boundary and the Inner Harbour and Coal Harbour of Burrard Inlet as the northern boundary.

The community court will lead to earlier resolution of cases, with offenders being held accountable more quickly and in ways that are meaningful to the offender and the community as a whole. Once referred to community court, the accused’s health and social circumstances, risk and criminal history will be assessed by the community court triage team and a plan developed for consideration by the judge. The court hopes to resolve cases within the first or second court appearance. The Legal Services Society will provide a full-time defence counsel to represent the accused, although accused persons will also be free to obtain counsel of their choice.

I am happy to report feedback from attendees at the forums was positive. The various agencies involved with this project, which include the judiciary, police, court services, Crown counsel, defence lawyers, victim services and health and social service agencies, are now even more enthusiastic as we move towards opening day (anticipated to be in March 2008).

The court will be located in the former Vancouver Pre-trial Centre on Gore Street, adjacent to the current courthouse at 222 Main Street. Key legal staff and service providers will work together from this location. Construction plans for the facility have been completed and redevelopment of the building’s interior is progressing.

Inter-agency planning has been happening throughout the summer. We will keep working through early fall to confirm the business process for the community court. Various agencies and representatives of residents and business people in downtown Vancouver have added valuable expertise to the development of the community court.

Agreement on key policy principles among the partners who are participating in the project — Vancouver Coastal Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority, the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance and BC Housing — has also been reached. A detailed map of the operating principles will be developed by this fall.

Judge Thomas Gove, the community court’s judge, participated in the panels that presented at the public forums. His enthusiasm for the project was shared by all those in attendance.

As we move closer to the opening of this new, innovative court, I am encouraged to be able to provide such a positive progress report. I believe this court will bring about much needed change for those who commit crime and for the businesses and residents who want to see crime reduced and safety improved in their community.

The community court is one of several justice reform pilot initiatives that aim to improve the justice system — to find early solutions and faster justice.