British Columbia Attorney General David Eby. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

British Columbia Attorney General David Eby. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Attorney General covers housing, homelessness and justice reform in Surrey Zoom

‘I think it would be really great to hold some sessions in Surrey,’ Eby says of legislative assembly

Attorney General David Eby says the provincial government is working “as quickly as possible” to deal with the “incredible pressure” private insurers are putting on strata owners right now and he’s also concerned about increases he’s seeing in rental housing insurance as this directly affects affordability for tenants.

Eby, who is also the minister responsible for housing, was guest speaker during a Zoom meeting hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade on Friday afternoon.

“It’s not going to be something that’s going to be solved overnight,” he said.

“We are seeing some stabilization in premiums and we’re seeing additional insurers coming to the B.C. market and we are seeing some strata corporations are having less trouble getting full insurance, which are all positive signs, but we do have a long way to go.”

Because rental housing stock is aging, Eby noted, the government is working on a system to help landlords improve their properties. With age comes increased risk for flooding and fires, he said.

“So how to manage that through supports for landlords to provide those improvements that mitigate those risks is a really important issue as well, it’s not just about the insurance companies, it’s also about the underlying risks, so we’ve got some important work to do there with the sector.”

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Senator Mobina Jaffer asked Eby if the provincial government is still working on a guaranteed income policy for British Columbians., suggesting that such a move could cut poverty in half.

Eby replied that the concept of a guaranteed annual basic income was referred to a group of experts who concluded that the province should not pursue this but did recommend some other “high-impact” interventions to reduce poverty here, including emergency grants for renters, capping rent increases to the rate of inflation and freezing rent until the end of 2021.

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He noted that shelters have operated at 50 per cent capacity because of the pandemic, as well as drop-in centres to, and people who used to couch-surf have unable to stay with friends, lending to a spike in visible street homelessness

Eby said his government is working with Surrey to build nearly 270 housing units in Surrey for people at risk of homelessness with more than 230 under construction. “While the shovels aren’t in the ground just yet, we have another 100 affordable rental homes underway,” he said, at 13583 81st Avenue in Newton.

“With provincial investment in Surrey SkyTrain, our hope is we can partner with the City of Surrey around really increasing the availability and density of affordable housing along that transit line.”

Eby also donned his other cap as attorney general to discuss the justice system. Last year he told a Surrey zoom audience that the system was in “triage” on account of the pandemic but on Friday noted that the courts never closed, but were definitely impacted.

He said Surrey provincial court – the busiest courthouse in the province – is rolling out a similar program that was set up in Victoria, featuring a family justice counsellor helping people try to resolves their disputes before their case lands in a courtroom, and to help “narrow their issues.”

“I’m really excited that’s happening in Surrey because of the business and volumes of that courthouse and the demand we see in Surrey around justice services.”

He noted dedicated phone lines have been set up in courtrooms to facilitate conference calls, something B.C. didn’t have prior to the pandemic.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, asked Eby if he thinks judicial reform is needed to try to get gangsters off the streets.

He replied a lot of concern has been raised about how in this computer and internet era, when police seize computers or records from a criminal organization there can be terabytes of information that need to be reviewed, redacted if necessary and disclosed to the accused.

“One of the things our justice system has not done very well is keep up with the ever-growing volume of electronic evidence that is seized and disclosed,” he said. “For example, this kind of information can inadvertently disclose a confidential informer, or this kind of information can inadvertently disclose law enforcement information, or it can inadvertently disclose the name of a police officer who is working undercover.”

All this has to be gone through in detail, Eby said, so hard drives containing “volumes and volumes” of photos and records, “someone has to physically go through that, review it and decide what should be disclosed, what’s relevant and what isn’t.

“And if you miss records that are relevant and you don’t disclose them, it can result in delay in a trial,” which ultimately can result in charges being dismissed.

“What it results in is sometimes a fairly significant amount of reasonable frustration on the part of police.”

Someone asked Eby why the government doesn’t move B.C.’s house of parliament from Victoria to Surrey, considering it’s expected to become the largest city in the province.

“Yeah thanks, I’ll pass that along,” he replied. “One of my favourite pictures in the legislature is the parliament taking place in a hockey arena during some renovations that were taking place at the legislature. I think it would be really great to hold some sessions in Surrey. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll pass that along.

“And permanent relocation, I think it was chose to be put on the Island for a strategic defence purposes from the Americans, I’m not sure about that, but New West was maybe a little too close to the American border and Surrey even closer, so it depends on how you feel about the United States, I think in terms of relocation, but thanks for that.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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