Harwinder Sandhu is proud there are people like Frank Cole in her riding that care so much for the community.
Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee, met recently with the retired Supreme Court Justice and heard his rationale for a new courthouse in Vernon.
“I’m grateful to meet with passionate community members and hear from them advocating on local issues, and I’m happy to share my constituents’ concerns with my colleagues in government.
“Since Mr. Cole brought up his concerns I have brought them to the Attorney General’s office, and we are keeping him up-to-date with any updates we receive. I will continue to voice Mr. Cole’s thoughts and concerns on the courthouse to my colleagues, including topics from our recent conversation.”
Cole, retired now for three years, spent 24 years at the Vernon Courthouse going up elevators to the third floor where Supreme Court is located. He would then, with trials proceeding, be escorted through hallways by a sheriff during breaks or ends in the proceedings as members of the public walked about. That also goes for provincial and civil court judges.
Cole is concerned about safety and the fact that high-security trials get moved to Kelowna or elsewhere because there are currently not enough courts in Vernon. He said one veteran trial lawyer told him 60 per cent of cases that should have been held in Vernon during his career were moved to Kelowna.
A 2011 assessment made by architects, said Cole, described the lack of security in the Vernon Courthouse, which turned 100 in 2014, as “startling.”
“What is needed is to bring the existing courthouse up to current standards and use it for civil trials,” said Cole, now 78, who arrived in Vernon in 1971 after serving as an articling lawyer in Vancouver, in a prior interview with the Morning Star. “The court registry should remain in the courthouse and Crown counsel and the probation branch should be returned to the courthouse. What is needed is a new courthouse for criminal trials that would be attached by secure passage to the existing courthouse.”
Sandhu said she understands infrastructure upgrades are being prioritized on the building, which celebrated 100 years of use in 2014, including a roof replacement to be finished in 2022.
North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold said a new courthouse would be a provincial matter as the B.C. government is responsible for providing everything the courts under their jurisdiction need, including building and maintenance.
“The future of the Vernon courthouse or construction of a new building are matters of provincial purview,” said Arnold. “The situation at the Vernon courthouse has been brought to my attention and although the construction and maintenance of courthouses is a provincial responsibility, I recognize the necessity for our justice system to be safe, effective and efficient for all.”