Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be among the cities that could be helped out when an integrated court starts operating out of the Port Coquitlam courthouse.
No date has been set, but a formal proposal will be presented the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of B.C. in a few months.
“I truly thought this would take three months,” Crown counsel Lori Ashton told Maple Ridge council Tuesday, March 12.
An integrated court operating out of Port Coquitlam could function similarly to the Victoria Integrated Court that been operating for nine years in that city.
The intent behind the Victoria Integrated Court is to improve access to health and social services for chronic offenders in order to improve public safety and hold offenders accountable, said the provincial court website.
The goal is to help offenders access mental health, health and social services. Police, outreach workers, social workers, probation workers and prosecutors discuss cases and plan sentencing.
However, trials don’t take place within an integrated court.
People pleading not guilty are tried in the regular court system, while those who plead guilty in regular court can be sentenced in integrated court.
Sentencing principles follow those in First Nations Court.
The proposal for a new integrated court is expected to be presented in a few months.
Maple Ridge’s recently drafted strategic plan calls for a community court to serve the area.
“We really think that we’ve got a proposal that will be successful, it’s just a matter of timing,” Ashton said.
Coun. Gordy Robson said that a local group had been trying to do the same thing for three years, with no result.
“We think it’s a key part of our social program here. We’re frustrated that our police are out in the street dealing with people they can’t arrest, and if they do arrest them, they’re back on the street before the report’s written,” Robson added.
Having another option, “is something we desperately need.”
Ashton said such a court won’t solve all problems.
“It’s definitely not the solve-all, but it can certainly help,” Ashton said.
Council voted to write a letter of support.
Other specialized courts within the justice system include indigenous courts, and the Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver and Domestic Violence Courts.
Mental health workers, community corrections, sheriffs, defence lawyers, a former judge and police forces from the surrounding cities are all working on creating the proposal for a similar court in Port Coquitlam.