David Eby, Attorney General, has issued the following statement on the opening of the new integrated court in Kelowna:
“Starting on Thursday, May 6, 2021, a new integrated court at Kelowna Provincial Court will improve access to health and social services to help to address the underlying mental health and addiction issues that lead people to become chronic offenders. This will be the third such integrated court in B.C., following Vancouver and Victoria. The community of Kelowna advocated for this kind of court, and we are responding to that call.
“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.
“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.
“This model works to divert people away from the justice system, offering them lasting help to overcome the challenges they may be facing that lead them to being arrested again and again, such as addiction, mental-health issues or homelessness. The new court will work with individuals following sentencing to provide continued support.
“I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie, the Honorable Geoffrey Barrow, the City of Kelowna, Kelowna RCMP, Interior Health, Westbank First Nation, John Howard Society of Okanagan & Kootenay and the many other community organizations that have played a part in making this project a reality.
“Like so many things over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges to the opening of this court. Yet, through the perseverance, dedication and hard work of many individuals and organizations in Kelowna, the integrated court will now be able to provide more people with the services they need to turn their lives around.”