Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court

Posted to: 

The first Community Court in Canada opened in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2008. Now into its 10th year of operation, Downtown Community Court (DCC) continues to show how a court can work with its community to create better outcomes for offenders.

Through collaborative partnerships with health, social services, and justice agencies as well as relationships within the community, DCC has created unique solutions to complex problems. For example, in response to the current opioid crisis it offers wraparound care to clients needing addiction treatment and supports, housing, mental health and primary care, Indigenous supports, income assistance, and access to alternative measures and programs.

10th Anniversary celebration
On October 24, 2018 the DCC team hosted a 10th anniversary celebration. There were banners declaring the Court’s vision and accomplishments, a display of artwork contributed by participants in its art therapy program, and a comments board and art station where attendees could express their feelings about DCC.

Speakers included Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie and Judge Jodie Werier, one of four judges currently assigned to DCC. Judge Werier paid tribute to two unique aspects of this Community Court – the mental health bail team that provides an alternative form of supervision with early intervention when a client is on bail, and the Case Management Team that offers focused, intensive “hands on” help to some of the most vulnerable offenders. “An independent evaluation of our Court has shown that many offenders have been successful in turning their lives around with the support of the Case Management Team”, she said.

Judge Werier quoted testimonials from current and former Case Management Team clients:

"My new family, DCC, is by far the best thing that ever happened to me."

"The difference with DCC is that you build a 'community' for us."

"I want to say how much people here at DCC mean to me. I really love everyone here ... life is not easy when you are on the streets."

"DCC is about a group of mental health workers that help with an issue or problems that have to do with drugs and other issues … you are given all the tools needed to address behaviours that are not good."

And she shared this story from a Case Management Team health care worker about a recent experience with a client:

"We worked with a vulnerable female client who suffered from mental health and paranoia, addictions, and homeless; we advocated for her diagnosis, connection to community mental health and eventual hospitalization. She had come to Vancouver from Alberta and we worried that if she received housing in the downtown east side, she would become entrenched and be more at risk.

A lot of people were involved - the Aboriginal Case Worker, the Case Management Team, Dr. Bill McEwan, Burnaby Mental Health Centre, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, St. Paul's hospital psychiatric unit, and the client's family.

This was a team effort and thanks to everyone's collaboration, the client is now stable, living with her family and connected to a mental health and addiction team in Alberta. The client's mother called me to tell me she had... "prayed for an angel to help my daughter ... and that I was that angel"."

The celebration included greetings from BC’s Attorney General and federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and concluded with moving remarks by a former client, now sober for 18 months, who described how DCC changed her life.

Judicial intern Justin Choi attended the ceremony and observed:

“After having had the privilege to observe different kinds of court, I have come to believe that alternative courts such as the DCC offer a better way forward for all of us - offenders, the justice system, and society at large. Getting to know how things are done at DCC has been a priceless experience as a law student, and one that I will carry forth as I continue my legal education and begin my legal career.

The celebration was a reminder that the DCC was, and is, a collaborative effort by countless people from many different sectors of society who deeply believed in the vision of a justice system that works for everyone, even those that are deeply marginalized.”

Anniversary newsletter
In an Anniversary newsletter, DCC’s first lead judge, Judge Tom Gove, highlighted the importance of the Court’s Alternative Measures Program where first offenders accept help and do some work for the community. He noted, “Seldom have we seen them return with a new offence”. He added that alternative measures, along with the Case Management and Mental Health Teams, “have reduced the rate of crime in downtown Vancouver, improved the lives of many, and made the community a better place.”

DCC defence lawyer Kelly Connell described in the newsletter how experts from different disciplines look beyond their mandates to discover common ground and engage in continuing results-based evaluation. “DCC’s strength still lies in the ongoing willingness of those involved to continue to discuss and challenge procedures, programs, and ideas, ensuring we are always moving towards better outcomes for our clients and our community”, she concluded.

The Anniversary Issue of the Downtown Community Court Newsletter offers more information, including one participant’s story of recovery and reflections by some of DCC’s community partners.