The NDP provincial government has ordered the City of Surrey to proceed with the Surrey Police Service and abandon its plan to retain the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction.
Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth confirmed this Wednesday, acting in accordance with Section 2 of the Police Act, during a press conference in Victoria.
“This decision is the final decision,” he said. “I fully expect the elected government in Surrey will follow the law.
“I know that this is an extraordinary use of my powers under the Police Act, and I did not make this decision lightly.”
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke could not be immediately reached for comment. The city’s communications department issued a statement attributed to her, in which she decried Farnworth’s decision as “disappointing, misguided and based on inaccurate assumptions.
“What has occurred today is the undermining of a local government duly elected by its residents. The actions of the Solicitor General should serve as a warning to the autonomy of all municipalities in B.C.,” Locke added.
Farnworth noted that Surrey’s police of jurisdiction currently is still the RCMP. “It will get to a point where the police of jurisdiction will transition to the Surrey Police Service. What I’m making clear today is that I am directing that that transition is going to continue toward the Surrey Police Service.”
After considering a recent corporate report from the City of Surrey, Farnworth found the city failed to make its case that sticking with the RCMP will be safe, would not adversely affect other B.C. communities, and that it did not meet conditions the provincial government imposed on the process.
Do you agree with the province's decision to order #SurreyBC to proceed with the Surrey Police Service?
— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) July 19, 2023
“People’s safety, in Surrey and across the province, is non-negotiable,” Farnworth said Wednesday. “The city has failed to meet the requirements I placed to prevent a situation where there are not enough police officers to keep people safe in Surrey. We cannot allow people in Surrey or in other communities to be put at risk.
“British Columbians need to know that when they call the police, help will come and people in Surrey want this uncertainty over who will police their city to end, and to know that they will be safe in their community.”
This latest development has been nearly five years in the making. At the former Surrey council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, 2018 the council, led by then-mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition majority, served notice in a unanimous decision to the provincial and federal governments that it was ending its contract with the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up its own force.
A schism in council’s ranks several months later saw councillors Brenda Locke, Jack Hundial and Steven Pettigrew part ways with the SSC, with Locke and Hundial eventually forming Surrey Connect. The three pulled their support from the policing transition, perceiving a lack of accountability and transparency in the process.
Locke then ran for mayor, campaigning to stick with the RCMP, and defeated McCallum in the Oct. 15, 2022 civic election.
She then used her majority on council to reverse the 2018 decision and put the provincial government on notice that it decided to keep the RCMP. Months later, Farnworth staged a press conference this past April recommending that Surrey continue to proceed with building the SPS, to the chagrin of Locke and her majority who responded by re-affirming in a 6-3 vote on June 15 that it would continue with the RCMP, arguing that it was Surrey’s decision to make.
Farnworth concluded, based on documents provided by the City of Surrey, that the city and RCMP are not able to “prevent an exodus” of SPS officers or sufficiently staff-up Surrey RCMP’s ranks without drawing Mounties from other communities.
“The Surrey Police Service is the only path forward to ensuring the safety of the people of Surrey, as well as people across the province, and for putting in place the long-term, stable policing they need” Farnworth said. “Effective collaboration between the city, the Surrey Police Service and the RCMP is essential to continue the transition, and I have made it clear to all parties that I expect them to work together to achieve our common goal of safety for people in Surrey.”
A financial analysis commissioned by Farnworth’s ministry concluded the Surrey Police Service would cost roughly $30 million more per year than the RCMP but the provincial government “remains committed to providing $150 million to help offset these additional costs,” a provincial government document indicates.
“It’s just not safe to go backwards,” Farnworth said. “It is time to turn the page on this difficult chapter and come together to write a new one.”
Farnworth added he plans to propose legislation in the fall to ensure that “a situation like this never happens again.”
Meantime, Locke added in her statement that it’s “very clear” the city never had a choice in this matter.
“We had a choice so long as we chose Minister Farnworth’s option,” she said. “What is equally frustrating is the amount of time it has taken for the Solicitor General to arrive at this point. His eight-month delay has now cost Surrey taxpayers more than $60 million.”
Locke said she will meet with council and city staff in coming days to explore the city’s options.
“I will also be asking for a face-to-face meeting with the minister to understand how he intends to compensate the significant tax burden that will be placed on Surrey residents and businesses as a result of his decision to continue with the Surrey Police Service,” she added.
“Until I have the opportunity to have those meetings, I will not be commenting further.”