Nearly 43,000 eligible voters in Surrey have sent a message to the provincial government that they want a referendum on the city’s police service.
The Surrey Police Vote, organized by Darlene Bennett, wrapped up collecting signatures Monday (Nov. 15) on an Elections BC-approved initiative petition that had the ability to force a referendum on the policing issue. The group started collecting signatures mid-August.
In order for a referendum to be mandated, the group needed to collect signatures from 10 per cent of eligible voters in each electoral district across the province.
From the get go, Surrey Police Vote acknowledged they had no intention of sourcing signatures across the province, but would rather focus efforts on Surrey.
While the requirements of the petition have not been met, the Surrey Police Vote group is holding hope that provincial politicians recognize the desire for a referendum in Surrey. The provincial cabinet has the ability to order a referendum.
In the most recent provincial election, the BCNDP, which formed a majority government, ran on a campaign promise that it would not order a regional referendum on Surrey’s policing matter.
However, the province has not yet indicated whether or not the Surrey Police Vote petition has changed its perspective.
“I think this is a clear message that the citizens of Surrey want a voice in this,” said Bennett. “I don’t think at the time of the (provincial) election that we actually knew what we were getting, the plans changed multiple times, the costs keep rising. Things are dynamic and changing. The people of Surrey now want a voice.”
Bennett, who’s husband Paul Bennett who was killed in a gang hit after a case of mistaken identity, said the petition was the first political campaign she’s been involved in.
The 90-day effort has had its share of controversial moments, from a city councillor accusing one of the petitioners of “attempted murder” for allegedly running over Mayor Doug McCallum’s foot, to the same mayor being investigated for public mischief related to claims he made to police. People collecting signatures also voiced concerns about bylaw unfairly targeting them at signing events. And about halfway through the campaign, Bennett filed an intimidation complaint against the mayor with Elections BC.
Bennett agreed that the campaign was an ugly process.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” she said.
Surrey’s Eileen Mohan, mother of Christopher who was an innocent victim in the Surrey Six shooting, said she wanted to thank the community for exercising democracy and asking for a referendum.
“Before RCMP came into Surrey in the 1950s, we had a referendum then. The people spoke and the RCMP came to Surrey. To change policing in Surrey, we would like to engage all of the citizens in Surrey to have a voice in policing, which reflects their safety and security in their homes,” Mohan said.
Surrey Police Vote campaign strategist Bill Tieleman said the legislation that allows a referendum is flawed because it doesn’t contemplate a regional approach.
“People in Prince George or the Kootenays are not particularly interested in policing issues in Surrey, but the people of Surrey really are. There should be the opportunity for citizens when something is of enormous importance like Surrey policing, so expensive, such a big decision, they should have been allowed to have a regional referendum,” Tieleman said.
“It’s too big of an issue to allow a very small number of politicians with a one-vote majority in city council to decide a multi-billion dollar decision here.”
Surrey Police Vote is required by Elections BC to submit financial statements. At the press conference Monday, Tieleman said the group collected about $10,000 from individuals. The National Police Federation was a “generous” supporter of the campaign, but Tieleman said he did not know how much money they donated.
Shortly after the Surrey Police Vote media event, the Surrey Police Union issued a news release calling into question the legitimacy of the signatures.
“The Surrey Police Union would be interested to know the distribution the signatures amongst electoral ridings in Surrey. Were the signatures collected concentrated in one or two electoral ridings? How many of the signatures reported were from residents outside of Surrey? It is also important to highlight that the signatures reported are unverified, and it is not yet known if some residents signed multiple times or are even registered voters,” the SPU release said.