Judging in BC’s Interior Region

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Serving as a Provincial Court judge in the Court’s Interior Region presents many challenges, and offers many rewards.

The Interior Region covers about 150,000 sq km of the south eastern part of British Columbia. The Region stretches from Merritt in the east to Sparwood in the west, and from Clearwater in the north to Grand Forks in the south. It includes the East and West Kootenays, and the Thompson and Okanagan Valleys. The Region is home of BC’s highest mountain peak and Canada’s only desert.

There are currently twenty five Provincial Court Judges assigned to the region, working from courthouses in Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Rossland, Nelson and Cranbrook. They often work in circuit courts, in towns like Sparwood, Golden, Castlegar, Princeton, Revelstoke and Lillooett. Sittings in circuit courts often consist of a mixture of criminal, family and civil cases, and things rarely unfold as expected, so the judges must be flexible.

Salmon Arm Provincial Court

Judge Richard Hewson reports that there are challenges away from the courthouse, too. Like judges in other regions, Interior judges frequently travel long distances by road to reach the courthouses they are sitting in. When they are assigned to a circuit court, judges regularly leave home before breakfast, sit late to finish all of the cases that must be heard before the next time the court comes to that town, and then return home in the evening.

Mountain highways have their surprises too, like this one on the road up the Warfield Hill to the courthouse in Rossland. Where else will you see a sign like this?

Judges in the Interior Region live and work in small cities and towns, where they know many people and many people know them. The person testifying before a judge one day might line up with the the judge at a coffee shop the next. Judges must walk a fine line between remaining engaged in their communities and maintaining the impartiality necessary to resolve disputes in the courtroom.

The challenges are outweighed by the rewards, though. One of the rewards is the chance to experience the colour and texture of the province’s history. Take the courthouse in Nelson, for example. It was designed by Francis Rattenbury, whose other work included the Provincial Legislature and the Empress Hotel in Victoria. When silver mining drove the Kootenays’ economy a century ago, the courthouse was the setting for resolution of competing mine claims. In the 1950s, some of the conflict between the Doukhobors and the provincial government played out in the courtroom.

Nelson Courthouse
Photo Credit: Gary Linn

The Nelson Courthouse was one of a network of public buildings across the Interior Region. They were built in places like Fernie, Revelstoke, Vernon and Kamloops in the early part of the twentieth century, and featured impressive, traditional design. They were intended to demonstrate the authority and permanence of the Province’s judicial system, and to demonstrate the prosperity flowing from the booming economy.

Away from their courthouses, living and working in the Interior Region rewards Provincial Court Judges with chances to spend weekends (once their judgments are finished) enjoying the sorts of outdoor sports and recreation that make other British Columbians want to call the region home. The challenges and rewards of judging and living in the Court’s Interior Region rival those of any other region in the province.