Community court opens this week in Kelowna

Community court launches

After years of work, a community court is reopening this week in Kelowna.

The rollout of a community court, also known as an integrated court, was a key recommendation from former Kelowna RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon’s 2018 crime reduction report. The city’s previous community court closed in 2012.

"Integrated courts aim to reduce recidivism by bringing together government and community organizations with the court, to support people in regular contact with the criminal justice system. This serves to deliver more effective responses that help offenders break the cycle of offending and protect the broader community from crime at the same time,” said Attorney General David Eby.

Kelowna’s court is being modelled on the Downtown Community Court launched in Vancouver in 2008 and the Victoria Integrated Court opened in 2010. It will focus on offenders struggling with addiction and living with mental health issues or homelessness.

"With an integrated court, social workers, nurses, counsellors and others will work closely with offenders to understand their individual circumstances. With this additional information, judges are able to make a more informed decision when sentencing. An integrated court is not a trial court, but eligible individuals may have bail hearings or plead guilty and be sentenced in the integrated court. People who plead not guilty have their trial in the regular court system,” Eby continued.

The court will see the Crown and defence lawyers meet with a probation officer before the courts to talk through an individual’s needs and the resources available to them. That information is then presented during sentencing, which includes a variety of supports with an ultimate goal of permanently removing them from the criminal justice system.

Whenever possible, the integrated court will have the same judge, prosecutor, probation officer, and care agency staff to provide offenders with consistency and follow-up.

Geoffrey Barrow, a retired BC Supreme Court judge, co-chaired the Kelowna advisory committee.

“The goal of an integrated community court is to address gaps in the traditional court approach for people whose interactions with the criminal justice system are a result of their substance use, mental health or housing challenges,” he said. “The court seeks to do that by connecting individuals with the supports they need in the community and by monitoring their circumstances while they are subject to community supervision.”

Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie said success in Vancouver and Victoria have shown value in the model.

The court opens on May 6.

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