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‘Not normal’: B.C. Crown counsel group floats moving Vancouver courthouse after assault

Click to play video: 'Attack raises new questions about Vancouver court’s viability'
Attack raises new questions about Vancouver court’s viability
Just days after two women were attacked near the provincial court at 222 Main St. on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, new questions are raised about the court's long-term viability. Kristen Robinson reports – Feb 5, 2024

The group representing some 450 Crown prosecutors in B.C. is floating the idea of moving Vancouver’s largest provincial courthouse to a “safer neighbourhood” after one of its attorneys was attacked last week.

The woman was on her way to work at 222 Main Street in the Downtown Eastside last Friday morning when she and another woman were assaulted, reportedly by the same unknown man, near East Cordova and Main streets.

The lawyer was punched in the face and required hospital treatment. At the time, she was being escorted to the courthouse through Crown counsel’s “safe walk” program.

Police said the suspect fled and assaulted the other woman a short distance away before his arrest. The state of her injuries has not been made public.

Click to play video: 'Two women attacked, including B.C. Crown prosecutor'
Two women attacked, including B.C. Crown prosecutor

In a Monday news release, the president of the British Columbia Crown Counsel Association said ensuring public safety at the courthouse is part of providing “safe and accessible” justice for all.

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“The attack reinforces growing public concerns about public safety in the neighbourhood where things have gone from bad to worse in recent years,” Adam Dalrymple said.

“That staff in the courthouse have security guards that walk them to work should be a big red flag about the overall public safety in the Downtown Eastside. It’s not normal to have security walk you to work, and we shouldn’t try to normalize it as though it’s just part of the job.”

In an interview with Global News, he added, he would like to see a public dialogue on the courthouse’s permanent closure at that location, in favour of another location that “reflects the aspirations and ideals of our community.”

Click to play video: 'Violent suspect back on Vancouver streets'
Violent suspect back on Vancouver streets

According to Vancouver police, the number of average daily attacks on random strangers in the city has decreased 77 per cent from about 4.5 in the first half of 2021 to 1.1 in the first half of 2023.

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Dalrymple noted that while the province provides security guards for people who work in B.C. Provincial Court on Main Street, none is offered to witnesses, victims or the general public. He said his organization has been raising security concerns with regards to the location for several years.

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Safety is “probably the worst it’s ever been,” having deteriorated quickly since the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

“Friday’s attack reinforces the chronic street disorder in the neighbourhood, and it raises real concerns about overall public safety because without that how can you ensure that justice is safe and accessible for victims and witnesses who come to court and don’t get security to walk them to the courthouse,” he said.

“Moving a courthouse out of a neighbourhood for safety reasons would be a last resort, but it would be irresponsible to ignore the very real threat to the public and those who work there.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver police officers found not guilty of assault'
Vancouver police officers found not guilty of assault

On Monday, the Ministry of Attorney General announced 13 new recruits had been added to the BC Sheriff Service. There are 89 court locations across the province and a news release did not specify whether any would go to 222 Main Street.

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Attorney General Niki Sharma was not available for an interview Monday, but in an emailed statement, said everyone at 222 Main Street “deserves to feel safe in their community and their workplace.” She extended her sympathies to those injured last week.

“I will be meeting directly with the Crown Counsel Association as well as the Trial Lawyers Association and others to understand what steps are needed to improve safety in and around our courthouses,” Sharma wrote.

“There are various factors behind the location of a courthouse, including its proximity to other law enforcement agencies, in-custody centres and other community programs and services. These need to be taken into account to ensure the smooth running of the courts and justice system.”

Premier David Eby said Monday the province has no intentions of moving the courthouse.

“What I can say is that I’m certainly very concerned about this assault on a Crown prosecutor and the safety of every person that uses that courthouse, as well as more broadly in the neighbourhood,” Eby said at an unrelated press conference.

“We have done a lot of work to address issues of community safety in Vancouver and in other parts of the province around repeat violent offenders … We’ve made some progress, but we’ve got a lot more work to do here.”

Eby said Sharma will be reaching out to the BC Crown Counsel Association shortly and is working with justice administration personnel to improve safety in the court system.

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Click to play video: 'Woman who allegedly stabbed another woman in a B.C. Supreme Courtroom on trial for attempted murder'
Woman who allegedly stabbed another woman in a B.C. Supreme Courtroom on trial for attempted murder

The man charged in last Friday’s alleged assaults, 27-year-old Kenyon Thomas Lavallee, had been arrested in late January on warrants for unrelated charges. He was released from custody less than 48 hours before the alleged attacks on Feb. 2.

Court records indicate Lavallee was released from jail on the evening of Jan. 31 after appearing on separate charges related to other incidents in Vancouver last year. He is accused of two counts of initiating a false fire alarm on Oct. 16, and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose on Dec. 2.

Lavallee appeared by video in Vancouver provincial court on charges of assault causing bodily harm, and assault, on Monday. His next court date is Feb. 12.

According to Vancouver police, he “sucker punched a jail guard” while in custody.

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