The City of Surrey’s Public Safety Committee was replaced seven months ago with a committee that has never met.
The Public Safety Committee, which used to be known as the Police Committee, was a long-standing committee that saw all of council meet regularly with police, fire department and emergency responders, bylaws enforcement staff as well as medical health officers, to discuss public safety priorities and initiatives for the city.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum dissolved the safety committee in July 2019, replacing it with an Interim Police Transition Advisory Committee (IPTAC) comprised of himself and Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford, Laurie Guerra, Allison Patton and Mandeep Nagra.
Shut out were McCallum’s former political allies Brenda Locke, Jack Hundial, Steven Pettigrew, and lone Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis.
The new committee had a proposed lifespan of three to six months and was tasked with supporting the city’s transition from the Surrey RCMP to the city’s own police force.
Hundial, who split from the SSC last July, calling the mayor’s dissolving of the Public Safety Committee on July 15 the “final straw,” said the only “current mechanism for all public safety matters to be brought forward are now going to be through council, or they’re no longer being brought forward. It wasn’t just policing, it was also fire, interaction with health.”
“I would like it to be brought back,” he said of the Public Safety Committee.
Surrey resident Debi Johnstone told the Now-Leader she’d tried on “numerous occasions” to obtain information concerning the IPTAC, until receiving an email from McCallum’s executive assistant on Jan. 31 confirming there has been no meetings, there are no minutes, and that “the chair may call a meeting of the committee as required and may also extend the term of the committee as required.”
Johnstone said a “really big concern” of hers is the COVID-19 virus. She said councillors are in the dark about such things, as they concern the city.
“This is getting very serious; this is not about who likes McCallum and who doesn’t. This is about our public safety, and this is huge.”
Locke said that back in the day, the Fraser Health Authority would have communicated its concerns to council through the Public Safety Committee.
Asked how council now finds out about public health matters, in the absence of that committee, Lock replied, “I don’t know.
“I am in this office every damn day and I am trying to find out a whole bunch of things, including where we’re at with the COVID-19 thing, is one thing – we don’t even have a really great handle on what’s going on in the city on all kinds of fronts,” Locke said.
“I try to find out where we’re at in terms of the opioid problems and the addictions issues. We would have heard about that – that’s exactly where that information came to us.”
Locke said she’d like to see the Public Safety Committee brought back.
“There’s lots of stuff that happens in a city this size that we need to be on top of. We are in a complete vacuum, and everything we do, we have to research ourselves.”
Meantime, Guerra said of the IPTAC, “In my opinion, we’ve never had the need to meet.”
Asked if she thinks that interim committee is now moot, Guerra replied, “I would say yes. I don’t know if it’s been disbanded formally but for me it would be moot mainly because Wally Oppal took over the transition for the province. Now he’s even out of it, the report is with the province now and they’ll do with it what they will.”
Is there any appetite to bring back the Public Safety Committee?
“When the police board is formed, city councillors have nothing to do with policing any more, that’s up to the board,” Guerra noted.
“You don’t often hear Vancouver councillors talking about their police, they just don’t. I don’t know if it has to be at arm’s length and that’s why they do it that way, but once the police board is formed, then city councillors aren’t really involved with policing. But if there’s a public safety committee, I’m not sure, we might form another one to deal with every other issue, whether it be with bylaws, just to have a representative from the police board maybe sit on something like that, I’m not sure the way it has to work or the way that it can work, if at all.”
McCallum has not replied to the Now-Leader’s requests for comment.