Statue of Lady Justice outside courthouse, at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

B.C.’s justice system in ‘triage,’ attorney general says

David Eby spoke in a “digital town hall” meeting hosted on Wednesday by the Surrey Board of Trade, via Zoom

Attorney General David Eby says the pandemic has put our justice system in a state of “triage.”

COVID-19 has “incredibly challenged” B.C.’s justice system, Eby said in a “digital town hall” meeting hosted on Wednesday by the Surrey Board of Trade, via Zoom.

“A lot of things that were very sacred in the justice system in terms of showing up in person, looking somebody in the eye and so-on, had had to face the reality that that’s just not deliverable in a COVID world,” Eby said.

Before the pandemic, he noted, literally thousands of people passed through B.C.’s courthouse doors every week.

“The entire system is premised on face-to-face appearances, people being able to pass paperwork back and forth – it’s largely still a very paper-based system,” he noted.

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“This system that has existed in this way for a long time has really been incredibly challenged by restrictions on social distancing and the ability to even just show up to the registry and pass some paperwork back-and-forth and get things stamped and so-on, all really challenging in a socially distance-required situation that we face.”

So far into the pandemic, there’s been a “very limited re-opening” of the courts for “urgent” family and criminal matters where “irreparable harm will be done, essentially, if the hearing doesn’t go ahead.”

Judges have been appearing in the Court of Appeal via Zoom while B.C. Supreme Court and the provincial courts have been using Microsoft Teams to do trials.

“They’re rolling out these different video-based platforms to do things essentially the old way with face-to-face appearances over video, and then the electronic registry has reduced restrictions to be able to file electronically,” he said. “I would describe that as the triage level and we’re slowly getting into the second level which is okay, we’re assuming these restrictions are going to be in place for a long time, there’s a dramatic backlog.”

He said work is happening “very aggressively,” with prisoners appearing before judges through video conferencing instead of being driven in, “for obvious reasons.

“We’re expanding video conferencing across the province,” Eby said. “We’re running into things like there’s not enough bandwidth in the courtrooms to support the level of videoconferencing that we need to have happening, so the infrastructure, even, in the courtrooms needs to be built up. It’s a system that is very old, and very tradition-based, that is changing on a dime and it’s quite remarkable to see it happening.”

During the Surrey Board of Trade’s digital town hall meeting the attorney general addressed other topics as well, including ICBC.

Eby noted that for people cancelling their insurance because they are not using vehicles as much during the pandemic, and businesses with a commercial fleet, that are only using a half or portion of their fleet, ICBC has waived cancellation, restarting and re-plating fees.

“The net effect of that has been really significant,” he said. “We’ve seen about $250 million of insurance premiums that ICBC was expecting to collect not come in. That’s an annualized number so if things continue as expected going forward that number will get smaller hopefully over time. If however we’re in lock-down for a longer period of time that $250 million gap will be what we’re looking at at the end of the year, or perhaps worse if more people are laid off or not using their vehicles for work.”

But as for the lower premiums forecast next year, Eby said, “We are currently still on time.

“In May of 2021 we’re still projecting a 20 per cent, on average, reduction in ICBC rates for drivers in the province, that is both commercial and personal, which is an average of about $400 per driver.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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