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Farnworth reaches for checkmate in Surrey policing transition dispute

Public Safety minister introduces legislation Monday that provides ‘clarity and finality’ to Surrey residents
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke. (File photos)

The provincial government is amending the Police Act in an effort to prevent the same mess from occurring that continues to define Surrey’s policing transition to the Surrey Police Service from the Surrey RCMP.

“People deserve to know who is protecting their homes, families and businesses when there is a change in policing in their community,” Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said Monday in Victoria. “These amendments mean that the confusion caused by the City of Surrey won’t be repeated elsewhere in B.C. When passed, these amendments will ensure policing transitions proceed in a way that provides certainty for people and maintains public safety.”

Farnworth said the legislation provides “clarity and finality” to Surrey residents concerning the transition.

“Amendments to the Act will specify that the City of Surrey must provide policing services through a municipal police department. It also provides the authority for the solicitor general to cancel the existing agreement between the Province and the City of Surrey for the provision of RCMP services.”

Premier David Eby said Tuesday that whether or not Surrey is moving forward to a municipal police force “is no longer up for discussion, they are moving forward to a municipal force in Surrey and for everybody’s benefit we need to just get on with that work.”

Farnworth said the legislation also provides, “if necessary,” the provincial government with the ability to appoint an administrator to “assume the functions” of the Surrey Police Board, of which Locke is currently chairwoman, to oversee the SPS.

To follow the bill’s progress through the legislator, you can check out

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke is not conceding defeat.

“We are still all in the process of reviewing it and we will continue to do that,” she said of the legislation released Monday afternoon.

“I’m going to be really clear – the City of Surrey has made a position, we’re not changing that position.

“First and foremost, we’re here to protect the taxpayers of this province,” Locke told reporters. “We know that the cost of this transition is extraordinary.”

Eby said Tuesday it’s “frustrating” his government and Surrey aren’t on the same page.

“I think there is a moment here to regroup with the city, to reset. It is very clear that the city will not be successful in any legal challenge, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars, the province is going in this direction, so let’s sit down, let’s move forward.”

During her Monday presser Locke referenced an easel beside her podium displaying a “very conservative” $464 million more attached to the SPS over keeping the RCMP over the next 10 years – not including capital costs and two-officer patrol cars. “This is going to be a tremendous increase to taxes in Surrey,” she warned. “That is a minimum, an absolute minimum. That is money that should be left in the pockets of Surrey taxpayers at a time when affordability remains our number-one issue.”

“We will do everything always to protect our taxpayer,” Locke said. “I will do everything always to protect our taxpayer.”

The provincial government said it will provide Surrey with $150 million toward the cost of the transition but Locke says that’s not nearly enough. Asked if his government will provide more money to Surrey, Eby said the “big challenge” is the longer the dispute is dragged out, the more expensive it gets. He said it behooves Surrey to “sit down with the Province, not to be going to court to spend more money on lawyers on a decision that’s already been made and will not be overturned by a court.

“The mayor fought a good fight, she raised a lot of important issues,” Eby said, but “now it’s time for us to sit down and sort it out.”

“The Province has committed to Surrey that we will support them, we understand their additional costs here, we will be working with that and I’m happy to have those discussions with Surrey,” Eby said.

On Oct. 13, the City of Surrey revealed it has filed a petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia seeking a judicial review of Farnworth’s July 19 order to proceed with the SPS. The government has 21 days to file a response.

Asked if Monday’s development means checkmate for Surrey, Coun. Linda Annis replied, “I hope this means that we’re done and we’re moving forward with the transition. I do think the minister’s saying enough is enough, we need to get on with it.”

Locke did say of the legislation that Farnworth could have made his case last December, but did not.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that this minister has taken so long to make a decision,” she said, adding “he could have said a lot of what he’s saying today, he could have said it way back in December.

“He chose not to, so we’re in this position now.”

During a press scrum after the Legislative Assembly’s Monday sitting, when Farnworth was asked what will happen with Surrey’s court petition in light of the legislation, he replied that “the province always has the ability to govern, and that’s what we’re doing. The court process, that’s up to the City of Surrey.”

Asked when his ministry will file a formal response to Surrey’s court petition, Farnworth replied “that work is done by the legal services branch and they make those decisions.”

At Monday night’s regular council meeting, Locke doubled down on Surrey council’s majority position to stick with the RCMP.

She said she’s instructed city staff to undertake a review of the policing transition, from day one to now.

“I want us in Surrey to have a clear understanding of what has transpired over the last five years.”

“My position, this council’s position, has not changed,” Locke said. “I continue to oppose the transition because of the extraordinary cost for Surrey taxpayers that will deliver no public safety benefit.”

Locke added it’s “simply not feasible” for Farnworth to say that a police service representing just 25 per cent of frontline officers today is best positioned to be Surrey’s police of jurisdiction.

“The SPS is top-heavy and it’s failed to recruit anywhere near the number of frontline officers needed to be the police of jurisdiction in the city. Surrey Police (Service) recruitment efforts are and will continue to be destabilizing for police services throughout Metro Vancouver and around the province.

“Let me be very clear again – I will not sit on the sidelines and accept a provincial plan that will cost Surrey taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, lead to significant tax increases, and that will deliver no public safety benefit.”

READ ALSO: City of Surrey launches court action to halt police transition

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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