Five unique regions in the BC Provincial Court

Posted to: 

The BC Provincial Court’s administrative structure recognizes the unique characteristics and needs of five different geographic regions in a province with an area of 944,735 square kilometres. Each judicial region has a Regional Administrative Judge (RAJ) appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Chief Judge, who delegates administrative responsibilities for their regions to these judges.

This eNews introduces the Court’s five administrative regions: Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Fraser, Interior, and Northern. Their boundaries are shown on this map.

Vancouver Region
The Vancouver Region extends from Richmond through Vancouver, Burnaby, North and West Vancouver, and includes Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, and Sechelt. Currently, 34 full- and part-time judges are assigned to the region. (Most judges work full-time but judges aged 55 or older, with at least 10 years of service, may elect to hold office as a part-time “senior” judge.)

They sit in five staffed court locations including Vancouver’s Main Street (criminal cases) and Robson Square Courthouses (family and civil law cases), as well as suburban courts in Richmond and North Vancouver, and the Sechelt court. The region also includes a circuit court in Pemberton and three specialized courts:

• Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver
• Downtown Community Court in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside
• North Vancouver Chet wa nexwníw̓ ta S7eḵw’í7tel Indigenous Court

Regional Administrative Judge John Milne comments: “I am often struck by the diversity of the region’s judicial needs. Our judges sit in two specialized courts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as well as in Vancouver’s primary criminal court. The Main Street courthouse has over 6000 new criminal cases each year. At the Robson Square Courthouse, we deal with thousands of new family and civil law cases each year. Judges also preside in suburban courts in Richmond and in North Vancouver, where there’s an Indigenous sentencing court.

Some of our judges also preside in smaller communities - Sechelt and Pemberton. Each community has different judicial needs and challenges reflecting the incredibly diverse and rapidly growing population of the area.

Our judges maintain a high level of competency and sensitivity to our communities’ needs through on-going continuing judicial education. When not presiding in court they write their reserved decisions, keep current by reading the law, consider complex applications for warrants, and volunteer their time to justice system and community groups.”

Fraser Region
The Fraser Region has five court locations serving an area stretching from Ladner and Tsawwassen on the southwest to Boston Bar to the northeast: Surrey (which deals with Surrey, Delta, White Rock, and Langley cases), Abbotsford, Chilliwack, New Westminster, and Port Coquitlam.

The region also has a virtual bail court and three specialized courts:

• the New Westminster First Nations Court
• Aboriginal Family Healing Court Conferences in New Westminster
• the Domestic Violence Remand Court in Surrey

There are currently 44 full- and part-time judges in the region, giving it the province’s largest complement of sitting judges.

Regional Administrative Judge Rita Bowry notes: “The population of the region continues to grow rapidly and is diverse demographically, ethnically, and culturally. To respond to the community’s needs and growing caseloads the Surrey courthouse was expanded, and a new courthouse opened in Abbotsford in 2021. The use of technology and larger physical spaces in Abbotsford and Surrey have reduced wait times and improved access to justice.

In part due to its high volume of family court cases, the Surrey Courthouse was chosen as the second location in the BC to implement the Early Resolution approach to resolving family disputes, beginning in December 2020.”

Vancouver Island Region
This region includes all of Vancouver Island, with court locations ranging from Victoria in the south, Ucluelet and Tofino to the west, Nanaimo to the east, and Port Hardy to the north as well as the off-island locations of Salt Spring Island and Powell River.

Its courts include nine staffed court locations and five unstaffed locations in more remote areas where circuit court is held as required. Judges in the region also sit in four specialized courts:

• Domestic Violence Courts in Nanaimo and Duncan
• First Nations Court in Duncan
• Victoria Integrated Court

Regional Administrative Judge Carmen Rogers adds: “Our 23 full- and part-time judges drive, fly, or take a ferry to get to get to many of our court locations. The courthouses we work in are varied. Many are purpose-built. The Nanaimo courthouse, for example, was built in the 1890’s to replace an earlier wooden courthouse. But others have courtrooms constructed in leased space convenient to court users. In Port Hardy, for example, the Provincial Court sits every second week in a former shopping mall, and in Ucluelet it sits in the Community Centre.”

Interior Region
Stretching from Princeton to the Alberta border and from Golden to the American border, the Interior Region has 25 full- and part-time judges and 21 court locations including 12 circuit courts, one satellite court, and three specialized courts:

• Kamloops Cknucwentn First Nations Sentencing Court
• Nicola Valley Indigenous Court
• Kelowna Integrated Court.

It also has two virtual courts where bail hearings are conducted. All the participants in the bail court, including the judge, clerk, Crown and defence counsel, and accused persons appear virtually either through video or, on occasion, by telephone.

Last year, access to some locations was interrupted by the weather as well as the COVID pandemic. Princeton and Merritt courts were particularly affected by the extreme flooding in November 2021 and resulting evacuations.

As described in a recent eNews, much-needed repairs and renovations in several of the region’s courthouses have meant that court staff and the public have worked in and attended court in construction zones during the last two years.

Regional Administrative Judge Greg Koturbash reports “The Interior Region is over 150,000 square kilometres. It is home to the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, Canada's only desert, and sprawling lakes. It includes the Monashee, Selkirk, Purcell, and Rocky mountain ranges.

While our weather might not be as extreme as that in the Northern Region, judges in the Interior also drive long distances in challenging weather to sit in our 21 court locations. And as one of Canada’s most popular holiday destinations, the time to travel between court locations can double in the summer.

We are proud of the work of the two Indigenous courts in Kamloops and the Nicola Valley, the Kelowna Integrated Court, which opened in 2021, and the enhancements to make our court system more accessible.”

Northern Region
The Northern Region is distinguished by its weather, its geography, and its sparse population. It stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Alberta border and from the Yukon border to Clearwater and covers some 670,000 square kilometers, an area larger than Alberta or France.

The Northern Region is served by 18 full time and two part-time judges who live in eight larger communities but travel to circuit locations in the surrounding areas. Its court locations include:

• staffed locations in Prince George and seven other communities
• 21 circuit locations
• 2 virtual bail courts
• 3 Indigenous sentencing courts (Prince George, Williams Lake, and Hazelton)

Regional Administrative Judge Calvin Struyk concludes: “Northern judges may drive more than 20,000 kilometers a year. Travel to our more remote court locations, some of which sit weekly and some less often, can be challenging – especially in the winter months with heavy snow and temperatures dipping into the mid -40’s. White knuckle driving and the ever-present risk of colliding with large animals are commonplace. “Fly in” circuits bring their own challenges.

Though large in area the Northern Region is sparsely populated. Outside the city of Prince George, the region includes rural areas and small towns, Indigenous communities, and resource-based industries. Like many northerners, judges in the Northern Region share a love for the region’s beauty and the warmth of its people.”

A sixth region?
Judges are assigned by the Office of the Chief Judge to a few isolated locations not served by the five administrative regions. In statistics reports, they are referred to as being in the “OCJ Region”.

An open invitation
Wherever you are in BC, our courts are open to the public except in rare cases. We invite you to visit and watch the Provincial Court at work.

Photo credits: Rebecca Jensen, Judge David Silverman, Ann Rounthwaite, Judge Craig Sicotte, Judge Dwight Stewart