District of Squamish may have to pay if it wants to keep a circuit court going
The Squamish courthouse will not close at the end of this month after all.
Attorney-General Geoff Plant gave a 60-day reprieve to 12 rural courthouses, including Squamish, earlier this week.
The hope is to keep many of the rural courts open permanently as circuit courts, which have no local staff and are assigned cases out of the nearest regional courthouse.
Circuit courts can meet several days a week or as little as a couple of days a year.
While Squamish Mayor Corinne Lonsdale was relieved the courthouse will stay open for now she was hoping her frequent discussions with the attorney generals ministry would lead to things being left as they are.
"I would be most happy to retain them as they are," she said from Harrison Hot Springs where she attending the Lower Mainland Municipal Associations Annual General Meeting.
"But Ill take a circuit court. Jobs are really important, they are. I would like to keep the services, all of it, in Squamish.
"But at the end of the day, and I think what is most important, is that people have easy and quick access to justice and that is not going to happen in North Vancouver.
"We want, and need and deserve court services in our own community and that is what we are going to keep striving for."
Lonsdale is hoping the provincial government will continue to investigate the situation in Squamish as she is not convinced closing the court will save money.
She believes, if the court were moved to a cheaper location it could operate for less than the costs associated with moving court operations to North Vancouver.
For example it will cost $40,000 to $50,000 just in RCMP expenses to move cases to North Vancouver. On top of that would be transportation costs for witnesses and others, as well as housing costs for the extended time prisoners might have to be held in Squamish before being moved to North Vancouver.
"I know it is costly to run court services, but I think it is just as costly to run them out of North Vancouver," said Lonsdale.
But if communities want to keep their courts they will have to pay for it.
Lonsdale said money has not come up yet in her discussions with the government.
It isnt clear yet what the price tag may be, but it is generally accepted in Squamish that paying for the much needed $4 million upgrade to the courthouse is not an option.
Lonsdale has suggested using the municipal chambers as a courthouse and that is still being investigated.
The Attorney Generals office hopes courts can work out how to stay open during the next two months.
The plan is for the government to pay the first $35,000 of the cost of operating each of the courthouses. Local taxpayers would have to subsidize the rest.
If the municipality doesnt pitch in dollars the closure of the court will go ahead.
Shutting down Squamish courthouse was part of the Liberal plan to get rid of under-utilized facilities or those in need of expensive repairs.
Squamish has always been busy with about 13 days a month spent dealing with criminal, youth, family and small claims. Four days a month the whole court moved to Pemberton and about 6 hours a month was dedicated to traffic disputes.
On Monday Whistler council decided to write a letter to Attorney General Plant outlining the financial and societal costs of closing the Squamish courthouse.
Councillor Nick Davies, a lawyer, introduced the motion Monday while at the same time acknowledging the courthouse may remain open.
If the Squamish courthouse closes, Whistler residents would have to travel to North Vancouver for court services.
Davies noted that there are a lot of small claims cases in Whistler and that such cases typically require three court appearances. Having to travel to North Vancouver for each appearance would be an extra financial burden on Whistler residents.
Davies also pointed out that in family law cases, such as a woman seeking a restraining order on her spouse, travelling to North Vancouver could be a huge burden, particularly if the woman is a single mother.