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Sea to Sky corridor still without courthouse

MLA Joan McIntyre outlines September’s expected budget highlights

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Sea to Sky criminals, witnesses, lawyers and police officers are still traveling two and half hours each way to have their day in court.

That's the frustrating reality for Whistler lawyer Greg Diamond who has been going to North Vancouver court since the doors closed on the old Squamish courthouse in 2002.

"Our justice is being dispensed by an institution that's not even in our jurisdiction," said Diamond, who used to operate as Crown counsel out of the Squamish courthouse.

His frustration was apparent this week as he asked local MLA Joan McIntyre for answers at Tuesday's Rotary Club breakfast where she was giving a presentation on the provincial budget, expected to be tabled on Sept. 1.

"Personally I have not let the issue go," McIntyre assured Diamond.

"There is no physical location that has come up to be acceptable. They have not found a venue."

What that means, however, is an expensive and timely process for Sea to Sky residents to get to court.

"I've had clients had their charges dismissed or the Crown hasn't proceeded due to problems of getting witnesses to court," said Diamond, who makes the journey once a week.

"It's just not appropriate."

There are also costs for police who have to make the long journey to the city and back for court appearances.

Sergeant Steve Wright said it can cost up to $800 for an officer to spend the day going to court.

"It is a very expensive and costly venture for us," he said.

He estimates that the Whistler police spend in excess of $100,000 of travel time getting their officers to and from court in North Vancouver.

The municipality pays 70 per cent of that overtime cost for any files within the resort boundaries.

Wright said it would still cost money if officers were traveling to court in Squamish or Pemberton, but not nearly as much.

"That's the cost of doing business when you live in a small community," he said.

The RCMP is in discussions with MLA McIntyre about the issue.

Squamish wasn't the only community hit with courthouse closures in 2002. Twenty-three other communities suffered the same fate as part of cost-cutting measures one year after the Liberals took office in Victoria.

Now the Liberals are faced with a provincial economy in the throes of recession, like economies around the world.

"We are still fundamentally in very difficult... very tough times," said McIntyre.

She told Rotary Club members that she expects the new budget in September to be reflective of February's budget.

That budget included a deficit of half a billion dollars.

McIntyre reiterated, however, that the province is committed to creating jobs, sinking almost $14 billion into infrastructure projects - $2 billion will be cost shared with the federal government for new projects accelerated over the next three years.

The government will also be investing almost $300 million over four years to support economic activity in communities across B.C.

But there are also some red flags on the horizon.

McIntyre said the government is trying to protect the increased funding to healthcare and education. But the demands on the healthcare system, in particular, are unrelenting.

"We can't keep up with the demand," she said. "It's not on a sustainable course."

She believes they will have to look at different ways of delivering healthcare with the Canada Health Act.

And while the provincial tourism economy is suffering - McIntyre highlighted the significant decline in day trips from the U.S. - there is the opportunity of hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on the horizon.

"I think it will be better than we imagine now," she said.

Through the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC), the Olympics and Paralympics are contributing $3 million a day to the B.C. economy.

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