Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Activist decries French court leaving St. Boniface

Legal proceedings heading downtown

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Some might say it's criminal that accused criminals will be tried at the Law Courts in Winnipeg instead of a palais de justice in St. Boniface after the end of this month.

After decades of trials and hearings in the French language being held in a courthouse in St. Boniface, most French-language legal proceedings will be leaving the city's French quarter at the end of the month.

And that worries Daniel Boucher, president of La Société franco-manitobaine.

"This is a step in the wrong direction," Boucher said.

"It's not a million miles away, but we fear it will move away permanently... it's a very important issue.

"It is part of our community."

The province will shut down the courthouse and court services at 227 Provencher Blvd. effective March 1.

The closure was sparked by last year's sale of the former St. Boniface police station by the city after it was declared surplus. It has been purchased by a doctor who plans to open a bilingual health facility inside the âtienne Gaboury-designed building next to the former St. Boniface city hall building.

It means Court of Queen's Bench matters -- which include some of the most serious criminal and civil matters in the province -- will now be held in French in the Law Courts complex at 408 York Ave., while the small-claims matters, which until now were held in St. Boniface, will be heard at the Summary Convictions Court at 373 Broadway.

The province says monthly sittings by the provincial court in French will now be scheduled at the Bilingual Service Centre at 100-614 Rue Des Meurons.

Boucher said it is particularly upsetting because the local MLA -- and the minister of francophone services -- is Premier Greg Selinger, while both Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and Appeal Court Chief Justice Richard Chartier are bilingual, and provincial court Chief Judge Ken Champagne is of Métis descent.

"That's the puzzling part," he said, noting the political and legal heavyweights in the French community.

"Over the years we've built a service and to have it taken away, even temporarily, is disappointing."

Selinger insists the province is still looking for a new location for the courts and the temporary move will not become permanent.

Selinger said a type of circuit court will soon begin holding hearings in St. Boniface with a long-term solution coming later.

"Now that the city has completed the sale of the building, and the owner wants to use all the space, we will find another solution as soon as possible," he said.

Coun. Dan Vandal, who represents St. Boniface, said he wants the province to find a new location for the courts there.

"St. Boniface deserves to have these services somewhere in St. Boniface."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2014 B4

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