Government must act on Surrey community court promises

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SURREY – After years of promises and delay, the Liberal government must move forward with a much-need community court for Surrey, say the New Democrats.

“Surrey could have had a community court in place years ago had the Liberal government acted on its commitments,” said Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains. “Surrey deserves better than a government that offers nothing but endless rhetoric and delays.”

Bains joined Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Sue Hammell and Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston in calling for immediate action.

“New Democrats have been pressing this government on the need for a community court for almost seven years,” said Bains. “The evidence is clear that the Vancouver Community Court has been successful since it opened in 2008, yet the government continues to stall with claims that it needs to complete its evaluation of the Vancouver court. It’s time to act.”

A community court would be a central pillar of a proposed Surrey Accord, which would bring all levels of government together to tackle the challenges of crime, mental health and addictions, and homelessness.

“Judge Thomas Gove, who presides over the Vancouver community court, and former Attorney General Wally Oppal are on the record stating that the Vancouver community court has been successful,” said Hammell. “No more excuses—it’s time for this government to step up and help make Surrey a safer, healthier community.”

A community court would provide efficient access to the justice system, and a problem-solving approach to criminal behavior. Community courts work to increase community safety by looking at underlying causes of criminal behavior and providing fast, informed and coordinated responses.

“As early as 2006 the Liberals were committing to expand the community court approach to Surrey, a commitment they reiterated during the 2009 election,” said Ralston. “This is simply mismanagement and yet more confirmation that Liberal commitments aren’t worth the hot air expended to make them.”

Bains, Hammell and Ralston are hosting a public discussion about the future of Surrey at the Surrey Arts Centre Studio Theatre on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. Admission is free, and participants are asked to register in advance for the event at www.surreyaccord.ca.

BACKGROUNDER: Surrey Community Court Chronology

Oct. 9, 2006: Attorney General Wally Oppal says he hopes similar sites in Victoria and Surrey could follow the planned Vancouver community court: “We’re quite prepared to work with them on an interim basis while the Vancouver project is still in its pilot stage so that they don’t have to wait around until the pilot project is completed and assessed.” (CKNW)

March 6, 2007: Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston advocates for a community court for Surrey during throne speech debate. (Hansard)

Jan. 11, 2008: Surrey Mayor Diane Watts states: “it’s ridiculous to wait for one city to develop their project before another city is brought on-stream. We’re ready to go. I had every indication from the Premier we would be moving forward with this.” Justice critic Leonard Krog: “They’re setting [the Vancouver Community Court] up as an experiment when there’s almost overwhelming evidence from other jurisdictions that community courts work. Get on with it. No more excuses, no more dithering.” (Vancouver Sun)

Sept. 6, 2008: Vancouver Community Court opens. Premier Campbell: “It is the first and I can almost guarantee you it will not be the last.” (BC Government video)

May 3, 2009: Liberals respond to Canadian Mental Health Association election survey: “The BC Liberals commit to expanding the [community court] model to other communities in British Columbia.” (letter from BC Liberal party)

May 12, 2011: Attorney General Barry Penner states that a final evaluation of the Vancouver Community Court will be completed in the Spring of 2012. (Hansard)

Jan. 8, 2013: Justice Minister Shirley Bond states the evaluation will be ready by Fall 2013. (Hansard)

Oct. 6, 2013: Former Attorney General Wally Oppal says he believes the Vancouver Community court is working. (Province)

Oct 11, 2013: When asked why the Vancouver Community Court hasn’t been expanded into other communities, Judge Thomas Gove responds: “I can’t really answer that, because that’s a political question…. I don’t know why. I don’t know why. It’s a project that works, no question about that.” (Bill Good Show, CKNW)