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Judge hears Farnworth ‘reneged’ on deal struck between premier and Surrey mayor

Justice Kevin Loo presiding over 5-day hearing in Vancouver
(Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth: The Government of British Columbia/ Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke: Anna Burns)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge heard about a deal reached between Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and Premier David Eby, contained in an affidavit from a political advisor and note-taker for the mayor, before Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth “reneged” on it.

The City of Surrey’s petition for a judicial review is aimed at quashing Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth’s order to replace the RCMP with the Surrey Police Service. Justice Kevin Loo is presiding over a five-day hearing in Vancouver that began April 29.

Loo heard about a May 5, 2023 phone call during which Eby told Locke he had “the greatest desire in the world to get this over with,” had proposed a plan moving forward that would involve another decision by Surrey city council on the transition “so that it feels final,” and said it didn’t matter what the outcome was but “what mattered was the decision would be on them, not on us.”

The City of Surrey’s lawyer, Brian Duong, told the judge this account has not been denied or contradicted by the provincial government.

As part of the agreement, Locke called for a special meeting and vote to take place on June 15, 2023, and in that meeting council again voted to keep the RCMP, but Farnworth “ultimately reneged on the deal reached between the mayor and the premier. The minister first insisted that the mayor cancel the special meeting, which she refused to do.”

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke announced in November that the city would challenge the “constitutionality” of the provincial government’s decision to replace the Surrey RCMP with the SPS.

On Oct. 13, 2023, the City of Surrey filed its first petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia seeking a judicial review of Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth’s July 19, 2023 order to proceed with the SPS. An amended petition to the Oct. 13 filing was then submitted to the court on Nov. 20, 2023, with Locke characterizing it as a “significant step to stop the NDP police service” and a reply to the provincial government’s “attempted police takeover, which would require a double-digit — double-digit — NDP tax hike on Surrey taxpayers.”

READ ALSO: Judge orders information sealed in Surrey’s police transition case

Duong turned the court’s focus on the provincial government’s “repeated assertion” that policing in Surrey was the City’s decision prior to Farnworth’s July decision and amendment to the Police Act. He referenced five stories published in the Surrey Now-Leader in which the minister and Surrey NDP MLAs said the City is responsible for policing as laid out in the Act.

“The minister is quoted ‘The City of Surrey is democratically elected. It had a motion, they took it to council, they have given the Province the notice, and it is on that basis that the City of Surrey has the right and the authority to say they want to move to a new policing model.’”

On Sept. 25, 2020, then-premier John Horgan said “the law in our province is crystal clear large cities like Surrey have the right to determine how police services are delivered, and we are acting in accordance with the law.”

Duong told Loo an article in the Surrey Now-Leader dated Oct. 8, 2020, contained within Surrey Councillor Rob Stutt’s affidavit, quotes Farnworth in response to a proposal from the BC Liberal leader for a referendum, saying it was “a major violation of the relationship with the municipal level of government and an unwarranted interference in the affairs of the City of Surrey” and “the law makes it clear that this is a municipal decision. The role of the provincial government is to ensure public safety is maintained, and that is what we will continue to do.”

On that same date, an article in the Surrey Now-Leader quotes Jinny Sims, NDP MLA for Surrey-Panorama, saying “large cities have the right to chose whether they want RCMP or their own police force” and is quoted as saying “at the end of the day, the decision belongs with the City of Surrey.”

An online article from the Surrey-Now-Leader dated Dec. 14, 2022 quotes Farnworth saying in a press scrum on Dec. 5, 2019, “what I said is that municipal policing is the responsibility of the local government,” and on Feb. 27, 2020 said “it’s laid out in the Police Act they’re the ones who get to decide what model they want” and on May 12, 2021 told the Surrey Now-Leader that “at the end of the day, it’s a decision made by Surrey council and if Surrey council if they want to overturn it, you know that they need to take it up with Surrey council.”

Further, Duong told the court, the Surrey Now-Leader quoted four Surrey NDP MLAs, with Jagrup Brar, NDP MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, saying “it’s a city matter, the City of Surrey, council made a decision,” Surrey-Green Timbers NDP MLA Rachna Singh saying “our stance has always been that this was a decision made by the City of Surrey and we have been supporting the City of Surrey with that,” Sim’s saying “it’s the decision of the Surrey council, that’s the division of power that exists,” and Harry Bains, NDP MLA for Surrey-Newton, saying “it’s the City’s decision, we don’t want to interfere with the City’s decision.”

Duong then referred to a passage in Locke’s affidavit recounting a conversation between the mayor and premier “where the premier stated that he didn’t care which police force Surrey chose and that it was the City’s decision to make.”

“We discussed the potential political fallout for him of calling off the policing transition. I told him that I had four years of runway before my next election but he only had one.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

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