Retaining Supreme Court services a priority, says Chilliwack mayor

Chilliwack could see provincial court services expanded under the plan, with two more courtrooms built at the Law Courts by 2028.

Some in Chilliwack are worried the city may be about to lose traction as a Supreme Court centre in the wake of last year's report from a provincial consultant calling for a shift to Abbotsford.

Some in Chilliwack are worried the city may be about to lose traction as a Supreme Court centre in the wake of last year's report from a provincial consultant calling for a shift to Abbotsford.

City of Chilliwack will continue lobbying to keep Supreme Court services in Chilliwack, despite a year-old recommendation to make Abbotsford the regional centre for upper court services in the Lower Fraser Valley.

The report, released in February of 2014, called for a dramatic increase in courtroom capacity for both provincial and supreme courts over the next 20 years.

Construction of a new $62 million court facility in Abbotsford with five Supreme Court courtrooms is the centrepiece of the plan.

Chilliwack, meanwhile, could see expanded provincial court services, with the consultant’s report calling for two more courtrooms to be built by 2028.

“A Supreme Court presence will be retained in Chilliwack,” the report pledges.

But that scenario, described in the “LFV Regional Plan Court Capacity Expansion Project” released by the province, has some in Chilliwack fearing the city may be about to lose its historic role as a Supreme Court centre.

“We will do everything in our power to keep it,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “It’s is a topic that is near and dear to our hearts in Chilliwack.”

Significant numbers of court professionals and legal services are now established in Chilliwack, so it’s important that Chilliwack be left with “more than just a court registry,” or unused courtrooms, after the changes are made in the coming years.

Regional court services in the Lower Fraser Valley may be in flux, but city officials are vowing to lobby and do whatever they can to retain a functioning Supreme Court presence in Chilliwack.

“We made it clear to provincial reps that we expect to have a fully functioning courthouse, and we impressed upon them the importance of Chilliwack as a central location to access to the justice system,” Gaetz said. “It’s high on our list of priorities.”

It’s been important to Chilliwack for years.

Local elected officials, including city reps and former MLA Barry Penner, launched a vocal and ultimately successful campaign in 2000 to keep court services in Chilliwack when plans were to centralize services elsewhere.

City of Chilliwack contributed $2.1 million at the time for the land assembly required for courthouse building construction.

Some have also suggested that court changes are coming from the city.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Gaetz.

The city does not have jurisdiction over court services, which is a provincial matter.

Next step is forming a working group at city hall of staff and council to meet with the provincial decision-makers about the regional court capacity expansion plans.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno