Turner Valley court will open May 6
Justice: New court will address backlog in Okotoks Provincial Court
Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 03:08 pm
It has been more than three years in the making, but the Turner Valley courthouse will have its first sitting in more than 20 years next month.
The first sitting of the resurrected courthouse will be held on May 6.
The Turner Valley courthouse was shut down in 1996 and sold by the Province to the municipality for just over $200,000. The town used the building as its town hall until 2012 when Turner Valley town council agreed to sell the building and an adjacent empty lot back to the Province for $850,000.
The move to re-open the Turner Valley courthouse comes after years of an overburdened courtroom in Okotoks, which serves the area from High River west to the edge of Bragg Creek.
Okotoks Provincial Court has seen as much as 12,000 criminal cases in a one-year time period and is typically setting trials more than a year away. Any delay by the Crown prosecutor can open the door to the defence asking for the charge to be thrown out if a trial cannot be set in a reasonable time.
The re-opening of the Turner Valley courthouse will also address issues for Eden Valley reserve residents, who have to travel approximately 80 kilometres one way to the courthouse.
The Okotoks court often hears of Eden Valley residents, both accused and witnesses who can’t make it to court because of lack of transportation.
Const. Jason Barber is a Turner Valley police officer assigned to work in Eden Valley.
He says the opening of the courthouse will likely help the reserve residents get to court.
“They are not mobile and there is no work there so they have little ability to buy a vehicle, have gas, pay for registration and insurance,” Barber explained. “Some don’t have the ability to pay someone to take them to court. Some people charge $100. I’ve heard that from a few people. We’ve tried to help them out sometimes by trying to pick a (court) date when they are being paid.”
Barber said with the courthouse now closer to 30 kilometres away it should be easier to get a ride.
It will also free up the time of Turner Valley officers, who often will pick up witnesses to ensure they get to court. Barber estimates that officers make the two-hour round trip between Okotoks court and Eden Valley once or twice a month.
Now they can pick up witnesses and drop them off at the courthouse and return to their detachment, located next to the courthouse, while court proceeds.
Barber said they have started scheduling matters in Turner Valley court and are letting accused people know they will be going to the new courthouse.
The Province has been looking for a solution to the problem at the Okotoks court for more than three years. The former High River courthouse was looked at first as a solution, but was ruled out because it is occupied by Child and Family Services.
The Province then turned to the former Turner Valley courthouse, which was old to the Province two years ago.
It has been renovated and the interior construction work included creating a secured entrance, new bathrooms, bringing the 35-year-old building’s electrical work up to code, installing audio and visual technology, renovating the courthouse area and holding cells and office areas with new paint and carpet. Outside the parking lot was expanded and the roof was replaced.
Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson Roxanne Nanuan said in past interviews that the building will be state-of-the-art.
The bid to update the courthouse went to Syncon Management for $783,300. Nanuan said the project was delayed twice last year, first when the Province announced it would be reviewing all courthouses following their spring budget and again in June when flooding wreaked havoc in the foothills, delaying construction at the site.
The project is on budget, Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson Roxanne Nanuan said, although the province has not yet given a figure on the total budget for the project.
The Turner Valley court will sit for criminal court every Tuesday and every second and fourth Wednesday. Traffic court will sit every first and third Wednesday.