The Abbotsford Courthouse then & now: from gun range & ghost sightings to individual video screens & EV charging stations

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The first entirely new Law Courts built in BC since 2002 were officially opened in Abbotsford on February 4, 2021. Completed on time and on budget, the state-of-the-art building was designed to be technologically advanced, environmentally friendly, and accessible to everyone.

The new 16,723 square-metre courthouse is located at 32375 Veterans Way in Abbotsford’s city centre. It contains eight Provincial Court courtrooms, three Supreme Court courtrooms, and three rooms suitable for case conferences, restorative justice, and Indigenous justice proceedings. It can also accommodate BC Court of Appeal hearings.

The courthouse is fully equipped with the technology required to support remote appearances in the virtual proceedings now being held more frequently. Both courtrooms and conference rooms contain modern video conferencing and presentation systems. In courtrooms, the judge’s bench and counsel tables are all height adjustable. Monitors on the judge’s bench, counsel table, and in the witness and jury boxes allow for sharing videos and documents on a screen. Large screen monitors in judges’ offices allow them to conduct matters from another courthouse remotely. Courtrooms, hallways, and washrooms are designed to be accessible to people with physical challenges, and the building meets or exceeds LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. There are also charging stations for electric vehicles.

Speakers at the virtual opening ceremony - Matsqui First Nation Chief Alice McKay, Métis Nation BC Acting President Lissa Dawn Smith, Attorney General David Eby, BC Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Chief Justices Robert Bauman and Christopher Hinkson, Provincial Court Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, and Minister of Citizens’ Services Lisa Beare - spoke about the importance to the project of cooperation among different levels of government, First Nations, courts, and other communities and organizations.

BC’s Chief Justice Robert Bauman reflected on what a courthouse represents. It’s “much more than bricks, mortar and glass”, he said. “In our society, the courthouse represents our shared dedication to upholding, protecting, and administering the rule of law. … As a beacon for the rule of law, this courthouse must and will be a venue for justice, that is:

  • a place of rules not chaos;
  • a place of light not darkness;
  • a place of openness not secrecy;
  • a place of fairness not arbitrariness;
  • a place of equality not discrimination;
  • a place of civil discourse not mean rhetoric;
  • a place of calm deliberation not hurried consideration.”

He asked everyone to think of these attributes as they walk the building’s halls.

BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson commented on how the building’s design reflected the fundamental attributes of the justice system and was intended to be welcoming, easy to navigate, and accessible to people with physical challenges. “The new facility will allow residents of the Fraser Valley to resolve their disputes closer to home (in some cases at home in virtual proceedings) and add much-needed court capacity in one of the province’s fastest-growing regions.”

Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie recalled the project’s history, saying “In 1967, the residents of the District of Matsqui saw a one room provincial courthouse built in their community to serve Abbotsford, Matsqui, and Sumas. In the years that followed, Abbotsford and Mission became some of the fastest growing areas in BC, quickly outgrowing their small courthouse. Multiple renovations meant that by the time it closed its doors in January this year, there were 5 provincial courtrooms and two conference rooms.”

As an aside, judges recall that the old courthouse at one time shared quarters with a police station, a gun range, and the Crown Counsel office, before each of them was evicted to make room for more courtrooms and registry space. They have fond and not-so-fond memories of the old building, including temperamental temperature controls, ants so voracious they tunneled through concrete to get to the judges’ chambers, and sightings of a ghost, in addition to the many baby showers, retirements, potluck lunches and bar-b-ques shared with court staff.

At the opening ceremony Chief Judge Gillespie said, “There have been plans to build a new courthouse for many years. Judge Skilnick, our local Administrative Judge, remembers being on a committee as early as 1993 to examine the possibility of a new courthouse to replace the aging, over-crowded court facilities. Through many renovations and even a fire, the new courthouse, while often discussed, was not built. Then in 2017 came the welcome announcement from the provincial government that new Law Courts would be built in Abbotsford to house both the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court.

At an early time in the design of the Abbotsford law courts, the Provincial Court saw an exciting opportunity to plan not just for 2021 but well into the future, incorporating innovative design and technology to create a model that could be used in the design of other 21st century courthouses. Along with other judges, I’ve enjoyed touring the building in a hardhat and boots at various stages for a first-hand look to see how the courtrooms and offices would function.”

The Chief Judge concluded, “It is my great honour today to celebrate the opening of the new Abbotsford courthouse. The new Law Courts are the face of justice for people in Abbotsford, Mission, and the surrounding areas of the Fraser Valley. … The Provincial Court welcomes the opportunity these modern facilities will give us to meet the needs of these growing communities by improving access to justice and upholding the rule of law.”

Photo credit: Alvin Lau (for Law Courts photos)