A community-type court system appears to finally be coming to Surrey, as the city and province strike a steering committee ahead of its creation.
The City of Surrey has been waiting for such a court since 2007, when it unveiled the Crime Reduction Strategy, of which a community court is key.
The court would hear cases involving drug offences, mental health problems or family matters such as domestic abuse. Instead of just locking people in jail, where appropriate, they would be referred for support services, including drug and alcohol treatment, mental health care or anger management programs.
The details will be determined by the steering committee.
Mayor Dianne Watts said she’s been in discussions with B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton for about eight months. Watts told The Leader she received an assurance from Anton Wednesday morning that a facility dedicated to those services in on the way.
“This is one of the key elements of our Crime Reduction Strategy,” Watts said. “It’s important to come to a holistic approach and get to the root causes (of crime).”
The promise of a community-type court came the same day Anton announced there will be 29 new court rooms added to the Lower Fraser Valley over the next two decades, including eight in Surrey.
In April, 2013, five municipalities, including Surrey, Abbotsford, the City and Township of Langley and Chilliwack, entered into a memorandum of understanding with the province for the provision of more court rooms over 20 years.
Those municipalities have now completed their plans and have presented them to the province for consideration for future funding.
The plan calls for “high-priority” projects to be completed by 2018.
They include: five court rooms for Surrey ($26.2 million); and a 14-court room integrated courthouse, with five Supreme and nine provincial courtrooms, in Abbotsford ($63.7 million).
Longer-term projects include: a five-court room provincial courthouse in Langley ($21.2 million); three more court rooms for Surrey ($8.7 million); and an expansion of Chilliwack’s courthouse by two court rooms ($8.2 million).
“The five municipalities in this region have worked hard to come up with a strategy that will improve court operations in the Lower Fraser Valley for decades to come,” Anton said.
Watts said the new facilities are welcome on this side of the Fraser River.
“Surrey fully supports the addition of 29 court rooms south of the Fraser,” Watts said. “This addition will most definitely improve access and reduce wait times.”
Supreme Court hears serious adult criminal, civil and family cases, and these matters are currently held only in Chilliwack, New Westminster and Vancouver.
Demand for these cases is largest in Surrey, followed by Abbotsford, Langley and Chilliwack, according to the report.
The plan will now be presented to the government for future capital funding approval.