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Victoria ideal for drug court says top cop

By Hempology | June 5, 2006

But Vancouver pilot project will be focus for now, says province

Times Colonist staff

Greater Victoria would probably be a good spot to try a specialized drug or community court, said Victoria Police Chief Paul Battershill Friday at a Victoria conference on alcohol and drug addictions.
“It’s something we’d like to explore here in Victoria,? said Battershill at the Voices of Substance conference.
A pilot project is underway to set up a community court in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to cope with addicted offenders and their criminal activities. It could open as early as Jan. 1, 2007.
Attorney-General Wally Oppal said he agrees with Battershill on a community court for Victoria however Vancouver is a priority because of its crime rate.
“But this something we’re quite prepared to work with in (Victoria) and if there’s one person who could really make it work, it would be Paul Battershill,? said Oppal. “We’d be quite prepared to sit down with the city and discuss that.?
The Vancouver community court came from a recommendation of a September 2005 report by the B.C. Justice Review task force. The courts role is to deal with offenders who choose, with the benefit of legal advice, to plead guilty.
The courts dedicated judge and staff have access to comprehensive information about each offender and implement a full range of punitive and rehabilitative responses. The main purpose is to solve the problems of the offender and the community.
Mayor Alan Lowe and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce support the establishment of a community court here, said Oppal. Despite a number of other important priorities, Oppal said he’s being “quite aggressive? about having the community courts up and running.
“We would really make our cities more livable if we were to address the problems of property crime … the annoying type of crime where you have your car broken into or you’re harassed on the street,? he said.
Community courts will be established based on the examination of a business plan, the crime rate including the percentage of property crime and the willingness of the Vancouver Island Health Authority to participate, said Oppal.
“The issue in Vancouver is that over 85 per cent of the property crime is committed by less than 10 per cent of the people . . . these are people who are suffering from substance abuse, mental illness, alcohol abuse.?
Battershill said that a community court would be a nice melding of enforcement and treatment options.
“An offender who was drug addicted and possibly doing a lot of property crime would enter a drug court system voluntarily and then be supervised by a judge, perhaps for a period of two years, while they attempted to get clean and get treatment and that would mitigate any sentence,? Battershill said.
There’s no question that the vast majority of property crimes are drug related, he said. That doesn’t mean people committing property offences shouldn’t spend time behind bars, he said.
“If somebody is repeatedly doing property offences, yeah, I’d like to see them locked up for a little while so that we get a break,? he said, adding that simply locking people up doesn’t address the underlying issues of addiction.
“But if somebody’s told you’re going to go to jail for a year or you can enter some sort of supervised program . . . then that may work very well with certain people,? he said.

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