Apprehended

Kelowna RCMP officers arrest a man who'd fled an ambulance while being taken to hospital after a suspected drug overdose in this file photo from January 2019. A new integrated court, in operation in Kelowna since May, focuses on helping offenders with drug addictions, mental health challenges, or who are homeless. 

Familiarity breeds compassion in the workings of the Kelowna Integrated Court, city councillors heard Monday. 

The same judge, same Crown prosecutor, same social worker, and the same probation officers are involved when the court is in session each Thursday.

That helps all the court’s participants come to know more about the circumstances of the 23 people who’ve come before the court for 226 offences between its launch in May and October, councillors heard. 

As well, there’s an informal nature to the court’s proceedings, with provincial judge Lisa Wyatt often asking questions and representatives of health and social service organizations offering their input. 

Offenders diverted to the integrated court usually have significant problems relating to mental health challenges, addictions, and homelessness, and have indicated their willingness to address those issues, councillors heard. 

A main focus of the proceedings is connecting the person with the services that can help them, and following up to ensure that engagement is maintained.

“Is the court working? That’s a fair question,” retired B.C. Supreme Court judge Geoff Barrow said. “Is it solving the underlying problems of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental health challenges. No, it is not.”

But if the definition of success is interpreted to mean a greater likelihood of a person in trouble with the law - for offences such as threatening, theft, and break-and-enter - will get the help they need, he said the answer was yes.

The court aims to achieve “the best possible outcome with the resources that are available in the community,” Barrow said.

But he and other court representatives asked council to continue to advocate for more stable and supportive housing for people who’ve been living on the streets while facing problems such as drug addiction and mental health problems.