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Squamish courthouse closes doors for good

All court appearances will now be made in North Vancouver Whistler residents who have a court date will have to travel to North Vancouver from now on.

All court appearances will now be made in North Vancouver

Whistler residents who have a court date will have to travel to North Vancouver from now on.

Wednesday the Squamish courthouse closed it doors for good after serving the community for 24 years at its Second Avenue location.

The courthouse didn’t close without a fight.

Both Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Squamish Mayor Corinne Lonsdale met with and wrote to officials from the Attorney General’s ministry in an effort to keep the one court-room facility open, even as a circuit court.

But last week crown counsel were told to start packing their boxes.

"Obviously we are disappointed," said O’Reilly.

"We identified there are substantial costs to our community so this is really another form of downloading. It is very significant… as there is overtime, staffing, accommodation and those sorts of things to be considered."

O’Reilly had hoped that certain types of cases such as traffic violations could be heard at Pemberton’s circuit court but it doesn’t look like that will be the case.

Lonsdale heard the news via the grapevine.

After fielding calls from the media on the closure she called the Attorney General’s ministry Monday and had the news confirmed.

"We never had any official notice," said Lonsdale, clearly upset at the way events unfolded.

"Justice isn’t being served in this community," she said.

"There will be no friendly witnesses anymore because nobody is going to give up a day or half a day to travel to court voluntarily.

"And what about those who don’t have transportation and what about single parents that really need to be home with their kids? This does really not work at all and I truly believe that the government did not put their minds to this at all."

Lonsdale is distressed that the government seems to be putting economics before people.

"The economy is terribly important to all of us but in fixing it we always have to consider what are the social impacts of this," she said.

"It is a terrible, terrible mistake."

All cases from Whistler south will now be heard in North Vancouver.

At one point officials were considering making Squamish a circuit court but, said Lonsdale, she was told the courthouse was too busy for that option.

"Well I am thinking," said Lonsdale. "If it is too busy for a circuit court how the devil do they justify taking it out of the community?"

Squamish did receive a 60-day reprieve, to July 31, following the Liberal government’s announcement of court closures around the province in January.

Shortly after the decision to delay closing the Squamish courthouse Lonsdale met with Attorney General Geoff Plant and other ministry officials and was told the situation would be investigated.

"I am totally disenchanted, frustrated and disheartened at how we have been treated through this," said Lonsdale.

"The Attorney General made a commitment to fully investigate and I believe he hasn’t lived up to it.

"We asked to be involved, we asked to help where we could but that is not what happened."

Initially the community was told the courthouse must close because the renovation to the courthouse, expected to cost $4 million, was too costly for the amount of cases it handled.

The ministry also said the court handled mostly traffic cases and was underutilized for its budget. Lonsdale agrees many of the cases are traffic related but says they take up only 10 per cent of actual court hours.

Generally13 days a month are spent dealing with criminal, youth, family and small claims. For four days a month the whole court moved to Pemberton and about six hours a month was dedicated to traffic disputes.

Lonsdale believes the courthouse was closed because the government believes driving 45 minutes to North Vancouver is acceptable.

Previously Lonsdale estimated the loss of the courthouse would cost the community $45,000 to $55,000 in extra RCMP costs.

Government figures show that Squamish courthouse is in use 106 per cent of the time.

And it is not just the court which has locked its doors. Squamish is still reeling from earlier government cuts to income assistance. Last month legal aid was axed in the community due to government funding cutbacks and the corridor has lost its only native court worker for the same reason.

Families who need help through the courts will be devastated by this closure said Melaney Crowston, program co-ordinator at the Howe Sound Women’s Centre.

She said when it comes to choosing between travelling to North Vancouver or looking after the kids the courts will lose out.

"They are going to say, ‘I am going to buy milk and diapers for my baby and forget going to North Vancouver," said Crowston

"And that is going to make them vulnerable."

Add into the mix possible four-hour closures everyday, four days a week for three seasons for highway upgrades starting in 2004, and access to the courts is even more precarious for those living along the corridor.

Ted Nebbeling, the MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, did lobby to keep the courthouse open.

"But obviously at the end of the day the Attorney General did not find that it was justified to keep it open," said Nebbeling.

"That is his decision and there is very little I can do about it.

"But one way or another we have to make sure that people can have access to the court system even if they have to travel, and I am certainly going to somehow work on that one."