Submitted. After years of working and collaborating on a vision for a new justice centre for the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen expressed disappointment today as the provincial government announced yet another “regional” study delaying implementation of a decision that was made years ago.
“My extensive files date back to June 15, 1995 when Abbotsford Mayor George Ferguson wrote to Attorney General Colin Gablemann outlining the need for new court facilities in Abbotsford at the Abbotsford Civic Centre site,” said van Dongen. At that time Ferguson said: “Abbotsford is the logical choice for an expanded court facility, and as the Central Fraser Valley grows, this will become even more evident in years to come.”
In 1997, Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh first commissioned a study of regional courthouse facilities in the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission. The Strategic Planning Study entitled “Court Facilities in the Fraser Valley” was completed in October 1998.
The comprehensive study assessed present and future needs as well as provided an extensive benefit cost analysis of various configurations for court services in the Fraser Valley. In its CONCLUSIONS at Paragraph 7.2 on page 40, Matrix Planning Associates made this recommendation:
“MOST COST-EFFECTIVE SOLUTION: We selected Development Scenario B1 as the most cost effective long-term solution for the provision of court facilities in the Fraser Valley.
Scenario B1 calls for new facilities in both Abbotsford and Chilliwack with the Supreme Court moved to Abbotsford.
In addition to being the Scenario that ‘rose to the top’ in our quantitative evaluation process, Development Scenario B1 was the logical choice . . .”
This independent analysis clearly showed that Abbotsford was the most efficient and economic location for a regional justice centre including the regional Supreme Court.On this basis, and with the agreement of the three communities involved, it was decided a new courthouse facility would be built in Chilliwack in 1999. The long-term plan, as provincial court use expanded in Chilliwack, would ultimately see the Supreme Court located in Abbotsford as part of a new regional justice centre. The provincial court services in Mission had already been shut down in 1997 and merged into the existing Abbotsford courthouse.
“The bottom line is that the issues for a regional courthouse configuration have already been studied. This announcement is simply just a delaying tactic by a government that has been sitting on its hands on this issue,” said van Dongen.
Van Dongen said a 2008 submission to the provincial government by the City of Abbotsford asking for $200,000 to design a proposed facility that would have included a new police building, all the appropriate spaces for courtrooms, holding cells, 300-bed remand centre, mediation rooms, restorative justice facilities, other alternative dispute resolution capabilities and video conferencing. The government declined repeated requests for this $200,000 in funding.
Van Dongen has been involved actively in every effort to build a courthouse in Abbotsford for the last 16 years and as recently as May 2012 wrote to Honourable Shirley Bond, Minister of Justice encouraging her to get on with the project.
He said at least three separate and active drives to build the Abbotsford justice centre, involving a broad spectrum of stakeholders putting in a great deal of effort, did not get to first base with our B.C. government.
“The government did not even release the Terms of Reference for this new plan today,” said van Dongen. “This announcement should have been about a new justice centre for Abbotsford being built, not about another study to rehash the requirements for expanded courtroom capacity in the Lower Fraser Valley. The studies have been done. It’s time to get on with the job.”