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BC Liberal, NDP MLAs duke it out in Chilliwack-Hope

The byelection in Chilliwack-Hope is in full swing, if the tit-for-tat here over the court backlog issue is any indication.

NDP justice critic Leonard Krog squared off against John Les on Thursday after the Chilliwack MLA called NDP party leader Adrian Dix a "hypocrite" for coming to Chilliwack to attack the BC Liberals for creating the backlog.

Les said there wouldn't even be a courthouse in Chilliwack, if the NDP had their way.

But Krog dug up a news release from May, 2000 that showed, in fact, it was the NDP government that approved funding for the new courthouse in downtown Chilliwack.

"John Les's bluster about the justice issue is to try and draw attention from the fact that Chilliwack faces the worst delays in the province," Krog told The Progress.

"Mr. Les wants to engage in a policy of red herrings because he knows this is the case," he said. "There's no one to blame for this (backlog) except the BC Liberals. They created it."

But Les didn't back down, giving Krog as good as he got.

"Krog conveniently skirts around the fact that if they had their way, there would be no courthouse in Chilliwack today," Les insisted.

"In 1998 they were closing the courthouse, period," said Les, who was Chilliwack mayor at the time. "There was no mention at all of any new court facility being built."

Les said that in 1991 the NDP government cancelled plans that were already on the books for a new Chilliwack courthouse on a property bought by the city near Young Road and Chilliwack Central Road.

"It was all ready to go when the (Mike) Harcourt government came in and cancelled everything," he said.

"Leonard Krog was part of that government," Les added.

When the closure of the old courthouse on College Street was announced in 1998, Chilliwack residents took to the streets in protest.

"As a community, we rose up as one," Les said. "It was probably the one time (during his 13 years as mayor) the community really came together."

Les said he later met with Ujjal Dosanjh, the NDP Attorney-General and "hashed out" an agreement to keep the College Street courthouse open while a regional justice committee was created, which eventually recommended building the new courthouse seen today in downtown Chilliwack.

Funding for the new facility came from the NDP government and the City of Chilliwack.

"From my experience, if the NDP had stayed in government, they would have welshed on that too," Les said.

"I think the record is pretty clear," he added, "as far as justice in Chilliwack is concerned, the NDP has not been our friend."

Krog was just as adamant the BC Liberal record shows that government places no value on justice, hiring fewer judges than any other province in Canada.

"The fact is, the message from the BC Liberals, especially in Chilliwack, is justice doesn't matter," he said.

The number of judicial stays has doubled to 109, and Chilliwack is tied with Surrey for the longest trial delays for adult criminal cases, and tops the list for wait-times for child protection trials.

"You can't pretend to be tough on crime and you're wasting the efforts of courageous police officers up until the moment of trial, and then tossing it because you don't have enough judges and early enough trial dates," Krog said.

Criminals are walking free as a result, he said, and parents are left twisting in an agonizing legal limbo as they try to regain custody of children apprehended by the ministry.

Les said the BC Liberal government is now conducting a sweeping review of the justice system to arrive at a rational remedy, while the NDP would simply throw money at the problem.

But Krog said the BC Liberal government has had 11 years to study the problem, and that no victim of crime would consider putting criminals behind bars a waste of taxpayers' money.

"I don't think the public believes that you throw away money when you catch and prosecute criminals," he said. "The public doesn't see that as money thrown away."

No date has been set for the byelection.

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