As first promised by the province last year, Surrey will be receiving a multi-million dollar expansion to its courthouse, B.C.’s attorney general has announced.
At a press conference Thursday in Surrey, B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton confirmed Surrey Provincial Court will undergo a $24.3-million expansion that will include three additional courtrooms and two more hearing rooms.
Construction will start in early 2016 and is set to be completed in 2017.
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 courtrooms over 20 years. The long-term plan for Surrey includes a total of eight more courtrooms.
According to Anton, the top priority was expanding Surrey’s provincial courthouse.
The city’s population has grown 60 per cent since 1991 when the courthouse was first built, she said, and is expected to double in the next two decades.
“With these kind of numbers come all the benefits and challenges that big cities encounter,” Anton said. “Some of these challenges involve the justice system where Surrey’s tremendous population growth has put pressure on the courts. We want to change that.”
The Surrey courthouse, which hears a high volume of provincial civil small claims cases, is second only to Vancouver Provincial Court in terms of caseload.
Surrey-Tynehead MLA Amrik Virk said the expansion is what the city and its citizens have asked for.
“We listened. We heard what you wanted as a community and it’s about promises made and promises kept,” Virk said.
But Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains criticized the news, saying Surrey deserves better than three new courtrooms.
“I hoped to see some meaningful action from the attorney general today, but all we got was three out of the five courtrooms she already announced last year,” Bains said.
He added the NDP has worked with the community to develop the Surrey Accord, a comprehensive plan meant to tackle crime on the streets and to address its long-term causes.
“It’s time the B.C. Liberal government (took) a look at the ideas in the Surrey Accord and start making real changes to make Surrey safer,” Bains said.
Also announced Thursday is the creation of an Integrated Services Network of social, health and justice service providers – which would ideally be situated near the courthouse in Surrey’s former city hall.
“It would be a one-stop location for clients who may have complex needs,” Anton said.
The Integrated Services Network would focus on cases involving domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse and prolific offenders.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said the model would allow for a “greater chance of success in re-integrating offenders into positive roles” in society.
“What we’re seeing today is an example of what can be achieved when a common goal is paired with meaningful partnerships,” Hepner said.
Anton said her ministry is currently in the process of developing a specialized court strategy to determine “future needs for integrated justice initiatives.”
The plan is expected to be released in the spring.