Les blasts NDP on courthouse stance

Chilliwack MLA John Les is furious with NDP Leader Adrian Dix for coming to Chilliwack to blame the BC Liberals for courtroom backlogs here.

Chilliwack MLA John Les is furious with NDP Leader Adrian Dix for coming to Chilliwack to blame the BC Liberals for courtroom backlogs here.

“The hypocrisy of the man is just beyond understanding,” Les said. “It’s a bad place for him to come beaking off about closing courthouses.”

Les said it was Dix, as part of the NDP government administration in 1997, who tried to shut down the Chilliwack courthouse.

“If we hadn’t jumped to the barricades, there wouldn’t be a courthouse in Chilliwack, courtesy of the NDP,” said Les, who was mayor at the time. “Now the bloody hypocrisy of the man to come to my town … give me a bloody break.”

But Les had to agree it was the BC Liberal government that later shut down 24 courthouses across the province in 2002, a move that political opponents and justice officials alike say has contributed to the current backlog in BC courts.

“But a lot of those were part-time operations, very costly to maintain, so we don’t apologize too much about making the system as efficient as possible,” Les explained.

However, he said the BC Liberal government is now studying why an increasing number of criminal charges are being dropped when fewer cases are being heard.

“That’s why we’ve appointed (Vancouver lawyer Geoffrey Cowper) to look at the whole system to see what’s up,” he said.

“The NDP will just throw money at it,” Les added. “We’re saying it’s better to understand this situation better.”

But Dix said the BC Liberal government has already studied the problem, yet failed to take any action, which has resulted in the current “crisis” that has obligated judges to dismiss criminal cases because of trial delays.

“The sad consequence of years of mismanagement is that it’s very difficult when you’ve allowed these delays to build up over a period of years to deal with it quickly — and that’s going to be a real challenge,” he said.

“This problem didn’t start yesterday,” he added. “It started because the Liberal party over a period of years failed to fill (judicial) vacancies in “a kind of experiment … which was not to fill vacancies to increase wait times and then see what happens.”

With charges being dropped against the likes of “Internet predators,” he said, “it’s a very significant issue and a real crisis.”

Ujjal Dosanjh, former NDP attorney-general, told CTV News earlier this week that court backlogs are not unusual and were leading to stayed proceedings in the late 1990s during his last term in government, just as they are today.

Chilliwack was tied with Surrey last year for the longest wait of 16 months for a criminal trial, according to a report by the B.C. provincial court.

But Chilliwack took top spot for the longest delays for child protection hearings — up to 14 months for a half-day trial — and the city tied with Terrace for the longest delay for family matters with a wait of more than 16 months for a half-day trial.

The statistics are contained in a September, 2011 update to the Justice Delayed report initiated by the Office of the Chief Judge.

Dix held a news conference Tuesday in Chilliwack after meeting with Gwen O’Mahony, the party’s candidate in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection, to discuss the justice issue.