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Circuit court set to return to Squamish

Corridor could see services in place by 2007



After intensive lobbying by Squamish and Whistler the Province has agreed to bring judicial court service back to the Sea to Sky corridor.

"We welcome the news," said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.

"And we particularly thank Squamish for really pushing this hard from their end. Without their willingness to provide the space it couldn’t have happened."

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland has been lobbying since he was elected three-and-a-half years ago to get court services back into the district. The province closed the town’s courthouse in 2002 as part of its cost-cutting initiatives.

This week Attorney General Wally Oppal agreed to re-introduce a 10-day circuit court in Squamish if the town provided some operations funding and a building.

Those were just the sorts of details Sutherland had been waiting to hear.

"That is what we have been asking for all along," he said.

"You tell us what we need to do to get our courthouse back, and put it in black and white and we will respond to it and Minister Oppal has responded to that and we are very pleased."

Sutherland is hoping to get a temporary home for the courthouse set up in 2007. The long-term plan for now is for Squamish to build a professional building, which would house the courthouse on the ground floor.

The strata units above it would be sold to pay for the building.

"We want to try and find a way so the cost to the people of Squamish and Whistler would be nothing," said Sutherland.

Sutherland estimates that Squamish and Whistler spend about $100,000 each sending RCMP officers down to North Vancouver to provincial court when salaries, mileage, overtime, and other associated costs are factored in.

Now that money will go toward the operation of the new circuit court.

And moving the court closer has real benefits for the community said Sutherland and Melamed. It means people can see justice being done in their own communities.

It will also mean that the judges who sit in Squamish will soon come to learn what issues are important to the community and understand the impact certain crimes have in the corridor.

Whistler RCMP Corporal Jeff Levine believes that is one of the most important factors in returning to a local court.

"It brings the court system into the community which it serves," he said.

"I say that because all the members up here, we are part of the community too. Now we can get to the courts easier, the witnesses can get there, and the accused can get there more easily. And if there is a court case that has high public interest then the public can get there too, as well as the local media.

"In this way the accused is going to be held accountable to the community."

The other welcome change would be the reduction in trips officers have to make to North Vancouver.

Currently Whistler and Squamish officers go to North Vancouver weekly, Levigne said. Some have to go on their days off — considered sacred in such a stressful job — while others have to juggle their schedules. All have to leave the community they are pledged to serve.

"If it is local we can actually probably do it when we are working and in most cases it won’t take all day as many trips to North Vancouver currently do," said Levine.

"I think it is excellent news."

Sutherland and MLA Joan McIntyre made the announcement earlier this week.

"I have known all along what an important issue this was to the community," said McIntyre, who has also worked to bring the court house back to Squamish

"So I am just thrilled with this news."

The next step is for both Squamish and Whistler council to consider the plan and offer input into how to make it work.

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