Van Dongen Releases Backgrounder On Abbotsford Courthouse Issue

Abbotsford South independent candidate John van Dongen tonight released a 7-page backgrounder outlining his version of the events which lead up to yesterday’s announcement of $1.8 Million is grants to study the need for a new courthouse in Abbotsford.

Van Dongen posted the document on his Facebook page and on Abbotsford Today’s Facebook timeline Wednesday evening.

From John van Dongen. The seven-page backgrounder behind the proposed Justice Centre for Abbotsford which now has been thrown into limbo.


Concept for a new Abbotsford Justice Centre courthouse project began in 1995, keeping in mind client convenience, court efficiency, costs and economic development.

The original concept included a number of possible tenants and services: Supreme courts, Provincial courts, sheriff services, holding cells, Crown counsel, probation and family services, commercial arbitrator, mediation rooms, restorative justice space, private legal firms, legal library, daycare, court recorders and more.

A formal committee called “The Abbotsford Regional Justice Centre Committee” was formed in 1996 with the following objective.

“The Abbotsford Justice Centre Committee (AJCC) will work to develop and maintain a fair, relevant and accessible justice system for all members of our community. The AJCC will uphold the highest standards in integrity and fairness, promote respect for rights and freedoms and work to ensure that Abbotsford is a just and law-abiding society with an accessible, efficient and fair system of Justice. The AJCC Phase One objective is to provide the due diligence necessary in compiling the needs analysis for each component of the AJC and to develop a combined vision of what is required in our communities Justice Centre.”

For a downloadable copy of the document simply .
click here.

Following is a summary of relevant examples of documents and meetings over the last 18 years to highlight the efforts to seek provincial government support, including funding, for a new Abbotsford Justice Centre:
1) Letter from Abbotsford Mayor George Ferguson (June 15, 1995) to Attorney General Colin Gablemann: Outlines need and desire for provincial court facility in Abbotsford at the Abbotsford Civic Centre site. “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,” said Ferguson.
2) Response letter (August 14, 1995) from Attorney General Colin Gablemann: “I would hope that we will be in a position to begin planning for a new Abbotsford court facility in approximately three years.”
3) Guidelines for the Planning and Design of Law Courts Facilities in British Columbia, provided (January 1996) by Larry Cade, Senior Project Manager, Courts and Judiciary Facilities and Services, Minister of Attorney General, inclusive of the Overview of the Court Systems,(Role of the Courts, Jurisdiction, Organization and Operation) Component Organization, (Definition of Components, Component Organization), Circulation and Access (Primary Circulation Systems, Building Zoning and Access Control, Extended Hours Access), Planning Parameters (Building Security, Building Systems, Future Building expansion), Building efficiency (Definitions, Efficiency Standards), Building Image (General Requirements, Courthouse Service Levels), Site Requirements ( Access and Circulation, Parking, Overall Site Area Requirements).
4) Letter from Douglas MacAdams, lawyer (January 1996): “…. What is clear however is that there is a shared objective among all participants, namely to obtain for City of Abbotsford a facility to provide for the community the most effective and efficient possible delivery of justice services to the community.”
5) Letter from the Office of Crown Counsel Fraser Region, January 10, 1996: “I am delighted that City Council has opted to spearhead a drive to obtain a new justice facility for our community. As administrative Crown Counsel here I am fully supportive of your efforts. I would be pleased to serve on any committee in any capacity to bring this facility into being.
6) Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Courthouse Task Force dated January 16, 1996: The four-page report looks at the trends ahead at the 30-40 year span and determines the function requirements of the Abbotsford Regional Justice Centre with the final statement as follows: “Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Courthouse Taskforce is committed to working with the other partners in the City to achieving a justice center, and looks forward to participating fully in the next steps.”
7) Letter dated January 19, 1996 from Karen Abrahamson, District Director of Corrections, Fraser Community District providing a vision of the Abbotsford courthouse and justice centre, stated: “The building of this type of structure/facility provides an opportune time to refocus some of our legal services from the strictly adversarial approach, towards one which fosters community involvement in addressing criminal behaviour in our community.”
8) Letter from the Abbotsford Bar Committee, Abbotsford Bar Association dated January 23, 1996:. The committee provided seven suggestions for the new Abbotsford Justice Centre Complex with the final paragraph of the report as follows: “With regard to the benefits to litigants, these are many. All civil trials involving amounts over $10,000 take place in either Vancouver, New Westminster or Chilliwack, mostly in the first two of these. Because trials are over-booked, counsel and witnesses often travel to the courthouse, only to discover the trial cannot proceed because no judge is available. In trials lasting several days or weeks, the costs of transporting the parties, witnesses,(sometimes dozens) to and from Vancouver etc. Adds a great deal of expense to the litigation. It’s obviously more efficient to bring one judge to Abbotsford then to bring dozens of people to one judge in Vancouver.”
9) Mayor George Ferguson letter to Chief Justice William A. Esson dated January 1996. ….. The letter invites members of the Supreme Court to join the Abbotsford Regional Justice Centre committee which represents a much larger population base than the current Chilliwack location.
10) Letter (January 1996) from MLA John van Dongen to Abbotsford Justice Centre Committee: “This proposal in principle has my wholehearted support. The potential efficiencies for everyone involved, including judges, police, members of the bar and the public is most attractive. Coupled with that, the construction of a complete, integrated Justice Centre would be a very appropriate addition to our Municipal Centre.
11) Letter from Gordon Taylor, barrister and solicitor, Mission, B.C. (March 1996): “On behalf of this firm, we would like to go on record as supporting the replacement of the existing Provincial courthouse facility and we are also in support of a future Supreme court.”
12) Letter from Rory Krentz, barrister and solicitor, regarding the cost to litigants of delays at the Abbotsford Provincial Courts April 1996: “…. The cost to the Director (Ministry of Children and Families) of delays presently faced in the Provincial court can be enormous…” The three-page page document included support information.
13) Letter from Alex Balakshin, trial lawyer dated May 1996: ”In summary, the taxpayers of Abbotsford and Mission are probably spending over $400,000 extra per year in additional legal fees and disbursements for preliminary applications alone because there is no Supreme Court facilities in Abbotsford. In addition to this amount would be the legal fees and disbursements for trials.”
14) Letter from Rory Krentz, barrister and solicitor, regarding Pre-Trial Centre dated May 1996: “The practical aspects of having a pre-trial centre in Abbotsford are obvious. The inmates do not have to be transported great distance by the Sheriffs for court appearances. This will reduce the time and cost involved each day to get inmates to court, sometime for very brief appearances. The Sheriffs would also have less distance to travel with the inmates for appearances in the courts of Hope, Chilliwack and Maple Ridge. Currently the Sheriffs run an elaborate schedule to get the inmates to various courts on time which involves a great deal of staff hours. The cost to the taxpayer is enormous and would be greatly reduced if a pre-trial centre was located here….”
15) Letter (May 1996) from Greg Goodfellow, Administrative Crown Counsel, Office of the Crown, Minister of the Attorney General in answer to question of incorporating a Remand/Pre-trial Centre into the complex. This would free up City of Abbotsford dollars which could be directed to police administration. Conclusion of the report was: “As originally stated, a remand centre is not really an attractive city asset, but rather a somewhat negative, albeit necessary institution. A full-scale Supreme and Provincial Courthouse on the other hand would be a major positive addition to our community. For this reason, it makes good sense for Abbotsford to offer both land and other inducements to secure an Abbotsford Courthouse. If a remand facility would increase our chances of such a facility, then it makes sense to include that in our offer. Be aware that the Corrections Branch of the Attorney General’s Ministry will have both the need and likely the budget for a remand facility in the general area in the foreseeable future. In my opinion, it makes sense to offer to locate it in our community but City Council may wish to tie the remand facility directly to a Regional BC Supreme Court Facility. The need for a larger provincial Courthouse is inevitable. That Corrections will be forced into locating and building a remand centre within the Valley is also inevitable. In my view, we should not accede to a remand centre unless it is tied to, and preceded by the building a full scale Supreme and Provincial Court Facility. And while the City probably will have to gift lands and offer other incentives to secure the courthouse, it is possible that merely agreeing to accept the remand centre and offering adequate land at a reasonable price may be sufficient.
16) Letter (July 1996) from MLA Michael de Jong: “Under the guidance of Chairman Brad Boyes, the Justice Centre Committee has been working diligently to develop a proposal that will serve the needs of our rapidly growing community in the most cost effective manner possible. I hope that you will relay to Council and the Committee my desire to work cooperatively with all parties to move this project through the various stages.
17) Letter dated July 18, 1996 from Councillor Brad Boyes to Abbotsford Mayor and council outlining all aspects of a new justice centre in Abbotsford recommending a meeting between Abbotsford council and the Abbotsford Justice Centre Committee.
18) Story in Abbotsford News dated November 1, 1997 detailing how Abbotsford provincial court is so clogged it has the longest delays in B.C. A one-day trial can be delayed up to 16 months.
19) Letter dated November 3, 1997 from Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen to Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh expressing frustration and concern that the Abbotsford provincial court has the record for the worst trial delays in the province.
20) Letter to editor in Abbotsford News by Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen in response to columnist and lawyer Scott Taylor for November 11, 1997 article entitled “Court Backlogs a Concern.”
21) Strategic Planning Study entitled “Court Facilities in the Fraser Valley” was completed for the Ministry of the Attorney General by Matrix Planning Associates, dated October 1998. Under conclusions at paragraph 7.2 it states under the heading 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.”
22) Letter to Attorney General Andrew Petter dated May 24, 2000 from Abbotsford Mayor George Ferguson reminding him that a new Supreme Court in Abbotsford is an appropriate long-term solution despite promise by the ministry to upgrade the existing courthouse in Abbotsford which Ferguson considers a “short-term measure.”
23) Meeting on January 15, 2006 between Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen, Abbotsford Police Chief Ian Mackenzie and Abbotsford City manager Gary Guthrie highlighting future of Supreme Court moving to Abbotsford.
24) Meeting on August 4, 2006 on Corrections Services Canada space requirements for new court facilities in Abbotsford involving Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen with representatives from City of Abbotsford and the local legal community. Interest expressed by deputy ministers for the Attorney General and Solicitor General.
25) October 19, 2006 meeting with court and corrections officials and Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen to get an Abbotsford courthouse facilities project deemed as top capital project.
26) Letter from Abbotsford Police Chief Ian Mackenzie dated October 20, 2006 to Abbotsford Mayor George Ferguson, Abbotsford City manager Gary Guthrie and Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen concerning the fact Chilliwack MLA John Les thought that a remand centre “would not be welcomed in Abbotsford.” Mayor recognizes a remand centre was needed and would not be a problem.
27) Meeting with Abbotsford City manager Gary Guthrie and Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen dated February 1, 2007 on subject of support for a new Abbotsford courthouse and a possible 300-person remand centre at a different location.
28) Meeting in Victoria with MLA John van Dongen on March 1, 2007 with courts and correctional service stakeholders to focus on supporting the construction of a new courthouse and acquire/zone a site for a correctional centre in Abbotsford.
29) Partnerships British Columbia completed the Abbotsford Courthouse Procurement Assessment with the final revision dated March 5, 2007
The final recommendation was: “ A public private partnership for a combined courthouse/office complex, in which Abbotsford contributes land, engages a developer to build the entire complex and the Province contributes capital for the court functions through a PPP Service payment, meets all of the significant criteria for a successful PPP. Other benefits such as possible synergies between different levels of government and reducing the amount of government debt required to fund the construction may also be achieved by this partnership model. If the City of Abbotsford will support this model, in accordance with preliminary discussions, this is the preferred procurement model.” Capital cost estimates for the Provincial Courts alone in 2007 dollars was $52.9 million.
30) Letter from Neill Brown dated December 17, 2007 to stakeholders involved in court facilities in the Fraser Valley. Brown said: “The logical case for meeting Abbotsford’s need is very strong. Abbotsford is B.C.’s fifth largest city with a fifth rate court facility. But sometimes politics trumps logic. So that stream has to be navigated too with the help of our MLAs.”
31) Letter from Neill Brown, Supreme Court Justice (March 7, 2008) This detailed letter with background, perspective, and information on what Abbotsford would offer, said: “In essence: the geographic and demographic case for a major justice centre in Abbotsford is very strong. We have already demonstrated a wide base of support from the bar in Abbotsford and surrounding communities. In this regard, I think it is important to draw in support from surrounding communities (and eventually into aspects of planning) in order to increase the support event further- for what might strategically best be called Abbotsford Central Fraser Justice Centre. The need and benefits are what needs to be demonstrated now. But undergirding all of this is the fact that Abbotsford, one of the province’s largest cities, is virtually the only such city without a courthouse befitting its stature and the needs of the region.”
32) A new large and multi-faceted Abbotsford Justice Centre Committee is formed under the leadership of community builder Brad Boyes on May 20, 2008. Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen was active throughout the life of the committee and suggested that it be comprised of community leaders, municipal elected officials, senior staff, provincial judges and service providers in order to complete the due diligence necessary in moving forward to bring a justice centre to Abbotsford.
33) Ken Skilnick, Provincial Court Judge letter dated June 2008: “Following are my views on this subject along with why I believe a new justice facility should include a Supreme court facility and other ancillary services.” Report went on to detail:
a) Why the Current Provincial Court Building is inadequate to meet demand.
b) Problems resulting from too much work for too small a Courthouse.
c) Supreme Court and other Services.
34) Abbotsford Police Department expression of Interest to participate in a multi-tenant Justice Centre (June 2008): “The Abbotsford Police Department is currently undergoing a facility needs assessment to provide an independent and objective review of the department’s space requirements for the next 20 years. The department recognizes that if it were co-housed with other criminal justice organizations such as the courts, Crown, remand centre, etc., there could be potential savings in terms of both facility and operational costs as well as operational efficiencies between partnering agencies. As a result, the department requested the planning team to prepare this paper as a preliminary expression of their interest in participating in any future joint venture development of a multi-tenant justice centre located in or near the
Abbotsford Civic Centre.”
35) Jay Teichroeb, City of Abbotsford Economic Development Manager dated June 2008 report on Courthouse economic impact specific to the $300 million P3 Calgary Courts Centre, City of Calgary and the $377 million P3 Durham Consolidated Courthouse, City of Oshawa. Full file documents on those two courthouse projects were attached to Teichroeb’s report.
36) Support letter (July 2008) for the Abbotsford Regional Justice Centre Report from Yvon Dandurand, Research and Industry Liaison for the University of the Fraser Valley and serves as Senior Associate for the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. Yvon is also Director of Research and Statistics for the Department of Justice.
Yvon stressed the need to plan for the future with a number of ideas that can add to the mix of the new Abbotsford justice centre inclusive of:
a) Addressing the issues relating to the number and lengths of remands.
b) Criminal Case Conferencing and other efficiency measures.
c) Alternative Dispute Resolution/ Judicial Dispute Resolution/Mediation.
d) Community Courts/Problem solving justice.
e) Re-entry Courts.
f) Professional Training.
37) Report from Jon Dykstra, Abbotsford District Bar Association dated July 3, 2008, showing the huge costs for the member of the Bar in traveling to Chilliwack, New Westminster, and Vancouver Supreme Court. The numbers do not take into consideration costs for the Abbotsford Police to travel for Supreme Courts hearings.
38) Abbotsford Police report (November 2008) outlines “The Abbotsford Justice Centre“ with one option for some first steps. The partners could meet to explore the possibility of developing a strategic plan for the Abbotsford Justice Centre. The plan could include some of the following:
a. A local justice centre mission statement aimed at providing a just outcome for all participants for justice and crime reduction in the community.
b. A common understanding of the issues that need to be addressed to achieve the mission
c. Agreed goals, performance indicators and benchmarks.
d. Consider developing a governance model, such as a stakeholder board with a chief administrator with a mandate to achieve benchmarks.
e. Consider implementing joint teams such as community court/and or a prolific offender management team. Find ways to co-locate these teams until a complex is built.
Conclusion was: “After considering the opportunities a new justice centre in Abbotsford could provide our community, it logically leads to a consideration of what could be done in the current environment that a new centre could then build upon. The APD would like to propose that we explore both the building of a new complex as well as begin a discussion about moving forward now in how the agencies can work together.”
39) Abbotsford Justice Centre “ask” to the provincial government for $200,000 to fund a feasibility study for a justice system “that makes sense” is published by the City of Abbotsford and Justice Centre Committee and sent to both MLAs in Abbotsford. It is dated December 11, 2008.
40) Abbotsford-South MLA John van Dongen writes to Minister of Justice and Attorney General on May 24, 2012 saying: “By any measure, the current courthouse facilities are less than adequate to provide justice services efficiently to Abbotsford and Mission residents. Despite rapidly
growing populations, the Mission provincial court was closed and merged into the Abbotsford facility in 1997.”
“On April 10, 2012 Mayor Bruce Banman convened a meeting with a representative group of justice system stakeholders. There is clearly frustration with the inadequacy of the current courthouse and the 15 years of discussion that have elapsed. In our recent meeting we were pleased to have in attendance Kevin Jardine of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.” “The residents of Abbotsford and Mission have been repeatedly told that the Abbotsford courthouse project is near the top of the list of priorities for capital replacement in the ministry. My purpose in writing is to ask you to consider establishing a process and funding to facilitate an assessment of needs and options. Such a feasibility study is timely since the City of Abbotsford is also faced with significant pressures to expand its policing facilities.”
41) Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond on September 27, 2012 responds to Abbotsford-South MLA John van Dongen’s letter, saying: “Replacement of the Abbotsford courthouse has been a prominent part of the ministry’s capital plan for a number of years.”

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