Penticton lawyer sees benefit to a part-time court in Oliver

B.C. government documents indicate some consideration for a circuit court in Oliver in the past

A decade after the town of Oliver lost its courthouse, B.C. government documents suggest they once considered implementing a circuit court in the South Okanagan community.

Time-to-trial statistics in Penticton’s courthouse have continued to improve into 2018, but one Penticton lawyer says adding a circuit court in Oliver could improve justice in the rural region even more.

The town did have its own court, albeit without its own judge, until 2002 when the Gordon Campbell government of the time shut down more than 20 courts across the province. At the time, some communities managed to keep part-time circuit courts in their communities, often using a municipal building.

Related: Time-to-trial stats improve, but still above provincial standards

Documents published to the B.C. government website appear to indicate the government at one point expected to implement a part-time court in the town of Oliver.
Image: B.C. Gov’t website/Screengrab
Documents published to the B.C. government website appear to indicate the government at one point expected to implement a part-time court in the town of Oliver.

Image: B.C. Gov’t website/Screengrab

When the B.C. government settled on the Osoyoos Indian Band as a location for the Okanagan Correctional Centre, 10 years after the courts were shut down, a part-time court in Oliver appears to have been a consideration.

A layout of sheriffs in the Okanagan in October 2012 had a single position pegged for circuit courts in Princeton and Oliver. In the former town, a circuit court has been in operation, but in the latter, no circuit court has ever materialized.

A freedom of information request for documents about a potential circuit court in Oliver came up empty and the B.C. government could not comment as it was a decision made by a previous government’s cabinet. Requests for comment to two former attorneys general did not yield responses.

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Town of Oliver corporate officer Diane Vaykovich said the town had been in some conversations with the province at the time to try to attract a circuit court. It isn’t clear why the idea did not come to fruition, but it appears the video conferencing capability of the jail played a role in it.

However, Penticton lawyer Michael Welsh, who has spoken about court issues in the South Okanagan in the past, said he sees a benefit from having an Oliver circuit court.

“My own thoughts are that justice is best served when it’s local,” Welsh said. “It’s a major inconvenience for people when they have to travel distances.”

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In criminal cases, sometimes the accused or a witness — including victims — has a hard time getting a ride. In civil and family cases, Welsh said taking time off work is more of a burden when hearings are in another city altogether. He also pointed to benefits to local policing.

“There’s then a shortage of policing in the community, because they’re having to go to another community to attend court,” Welsh said. “So there are a lot of negative factors that go into not having courts locally.”

Those negative factors, he said, likely wouldn’t be outweighed by the cost of a circuit court with its registry based in Penticton, either, which are likely cheaper than a court with its own registry.

“In most cases, the facility is something that the local community, the town, will provide, and so it’s really just the staffing,” Welsh said.

In the most recent semi-annual time-to-trial report, the situation in Penticton improved since September 2017. In fact, in most categories of trials, Penticton’s courthouse now matches or beats the standards set by the Office of the Chief Judge.

However, Welsh said that could be improved further by adding an Oliver circuit court, with Penticton’s courthouse often lacking courtroom space, while judges appear to be consumed with time.

While there appear to have been some consideration in the past, the radio silence since then has continued through the latest election, with a new government in place.

“Government is not currently engaged in any discussion or analysis with respect to opening a circuit court site in Oliver,” a Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson said.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter


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