Surrey City Councillor Brenda Locke is calling for the immediate suspension of the city’s policing transition process because First Nations have not been consulted on the plan to swap out the RCMP for a city-made police force.
Locke presented her notice of motion at the end of Monday night’s council meeting and Mayor Doug McCallum said it will be dealt with at the next council meeting.
She called for the existing process to be “immediately suspended until a sufficient, respectful and transparent consultation process that meets the federal, provincial and municipal obligations to consult with our First Nations peoples affected by the proposed changes has been adopted.”
The Now-Leader has sought comment from provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, but he has not yet returned phone calls. On Aug. 22, 2019 Farnworth gave Surrey the go-ahead to pursue the establishment of a made-in-Surrey police force, under the auspices of the provincial government.
Hope Latham, a public affairs officer for the ministry, sent a canned statement at press time stating “over the past number of months” it has “been in contact” with representatives from the Semiahmoo, Kwantlen and Katzie First Nations “and further consultation will be a priority once a decision is made regarding the establishment of a police board.”
Wally Oppal, the former B.C. Supreme Court judge and attorney general in charge of overseeing the plan, has finished his review of the report from the joint provincial government-City of Surrey committee on the proposed transition and sent it on to Brenda Butterworth-Carr, B.C.’s director of police services, for further consideration.
“They’re still in the consultative process, I mean the government will do all of that, I assume, but nothing’s been finalized yet,” Oppal told the Now-Leader.
He said he’s sure the government will address the need for First Nations input before it issues an authorization for Surrey to establish its own police force.
Meantime, Chief Harley Chappell says Semiahmoo First Nation has “lots of questions” as to what policing will look like for the band, which has a “fantastic working relationship with our FNP (First Nations Police) officer, as well as the diversity unit and the officer in command of that. We’ve developed those relationships over the years and now, obviously, with the municipality looking at transitioning… there’s a lot of questions, and unknowns, of what that looks like.
“Ideally, there should be some conversations as to how that transition may look,” Chappell said.
He said he had a “brief discussion” with the Province early on, but confirmed “we haven’t been part of (the city’s) dialogue” on what is proposed.
Oppal said Wednesday he “wouldn’t be alarmed” because this “properly would be the role of a police board.
“What we’re giving to the government is this is what’s needed for you to move to the next step,” Oppal explained, “but moving to the next step requires the establishment of a police board, which sets policies.”
Once a police board is established, he said, it would hire a police chief whose priority would be to determine how best to serve the community.
“That would be talking to the First Nations, talking to various other groups, South Asian communities, various other people. Now, with the First Nations it requires a special relationship and you have so consult with them on things, so that would be done at that stage, and it would be done fairly extensively.
“I cannot imagine the provincial government okaying this thing, giving a sanction for Surrey to have its own police force, and not doing any engagement with the First Nations,” Oppal said. “So that they may not have had a detailed discussion with them isn’t really alarming.
“I don’t find that to be a great concern at this stage,” he added. “Absolutely they would be a priority, because they received that type of engagement with the RCMP.”
Locke noted in her notice of motion the Surrey RCMP police both the Semiahmoo and Katzie First Nations, and that Surrey is home to B.C.’s largest urban Indigenous population, yet neither First Nation has been consulted with “regarding any possible transition to a Surrey Police Force by the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia or the City of Surrey.”
Her motion notes that according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments “are required to adopt participatory approaches to Indigenous issues which requires effective participation for Indigenous peoples in all matters that concern them.”
Locke’s motion also cites Guideline #6 of British Columbia’s Draft Principles that Guide the Province of British Columbia’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples, which provides that the provincial government “recognizes that meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples aims to secure their free, prior and informed consent when B.C. proposes to take actions which impact them and their rights, including their lands, territories and resources.”
Locke told the Now-Leader on Tuesday she’d been meeting with Chief Chappell and Councillor Joanne Charles of the Semiahmoo First Nation recently to “just talk about issues around what’s going on at Semiahmoo” and brought up the policing transition issue.
“I never, ever thought that they wouldn’t have been completely involved from the get-go,” she said. “They haven’t even been consulting with them. It’s just unbelievable to me, actually. This is on the province now – in November, this provincial government came out very firmly, the first province to come and completely adopt the United Nations declaration on Indigenous People, so they are required to ensure that relationship is maintained.”
“I think they have no choice,” Locke said, “I think the province must ensure that this all goes back to the beginning, and start talking to First Nations. I can’t see how they can ignore this; this is their duty, their requirement, and the fact that the City of Surrey ignored it is unconscionable, to me. I think the Province is going to have to make this right.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, noted the Province in November unanimously passed legislation concerning Indigenous human rights and now, in evaluating Surrey’s policing transition, “has an obligation to collaborate and consult with First Nation communities.”
She said the board agrees with Locke’s motion to suspend the transition plan until First Nations are consulted.
– With file by Tracy Holmes