New Abbotsford courthouse an ‘absolute must’

In 1996, Abbotsford city hall announced the need for a new court building.

At that time, the Justice Centre Committee determined the provincial court facilities were “inadequate” for the community and had to be expanded. It also recommended a new Supreme Court facility be added to address a growing number of cases.

The delay for a typical one-day trial in Abbotsford Provincial Court is about 12 months

The delay for a typical one-day trial in Abbotsford Provincial Court is about 12 months

In 1996, Abbotsford city hall announced the need for a new court building.

At that time, the Justice Centre Committee determined the provincial court facilities were “inadequate” for the community and had to be expanded. It also recommended a new Supreme Court facility be added to address a growing number of cases.

Fifteen years later, nothing has changed.

Last week, council identified a new $50-million justice complex as one of the top three priority projects for 2011. It was also on that list in 2010, 2009 and previously.

So far, provincial funds have not been available.

“Our court facility is a joke,” said Mayor George Peary, adding it was suitable for the city’s population 30 years ago.

“A new courthouse is an absolute must, and we should have a Supreme Court. I think everybody realizes that.”

While he said the need is obvious, a new courthouse is a provincial matter.

“The problem is, by the time they fund health care and education, there’s not much left for anything else,” said Peary.

But that doesn’t eliminate an obvious need. That’s why the city made the justice centre a priority, to keep the issue in the foreground, in hopes the province will take a closer look.

“We’ll be talking to minister (Mike) de Jong about it,” said Peary.

But there’s another issue besides a bigger building.

“If you build a larger courthouse, then you need more judges and a full Crown counsel … you have to ensure that the support pieces are in place,” said Peary.

City manager Frank Pizzuto, who recommended the priority list, said the justice centre would be a hybrid project, hopefully involving the federal, provincial and municipal government.

He sees it combining provincial court houses, the community court system, Crown counsel offices, restorative justice, and the Abbotsford Police force, which also needs more room.

“The goal is to have justice dispensed more efficiently,” said Pizzuto.

However, at this time, there is no plan to move forward, other than an application by the city for feasibility study funding.

As for the $50-million price tag, Pizzuto said it’s merely a generic figure.

“It could be two or three times that amount,” he said.