Surrey Vaisakhi organizers unhappy paying policing costs

SURREY — After an economic impact study revealed that Surrey’s annual Vaisakhi parade brings in tens of millions of dollars of business, event organizers and community members are asking why their non-profit groups are still stuck footing the bill for the policing costs.

According to Baljinder Singh Khera, spokesman for the Dasmesh Darbar gurdwara which organizes the annual event, the temple alone spends about $225,000 on the parade — a third of which goes toward RCMP presence for the day.

“It’s very hard to recover that $225,000,” Khera told Vancouver Desi, adding that all funds for the free daylong event run mainly by volunteers strictly come from donations.

Khera and other gurdwara members have spent the past few years asking “for a little more support from the city.”

In an effort to support their campaign, South Asian Post publisher Harbinder Singh Sewak commissioned MNP’s Economics and Research Practice to conduct a preliminary economic impact study on the event.

While the study concludes that “further analysis” is required, its key findings — which pulled data from organizers, Statistics Canada and local news reports — estimate that the 2014 parade contributed up to $12.3 million toward the provincial economy. It also found that 60 per cent of parade visitors were from out-of-town, and they spent nearly $30 million during their visit.

“This should be subsidized because look at the economic impact it’s making,” Sewak told Vancouver Desi, adding that the event, which doesn’t make a profit, is attended by about 250,000 people. “The impact goes on to hotels, on to food, on entertainment, transportation … (and) lasts usually for a week, even though the function’s for a day.

“People come from out of town, they’re there a few days earlier, they do some shopping, go to shows, they end up staying for a couple more days … all because of the festival.”

Sewak believes the City of Surrey should follow the example of Vancouver, which recently implemented a formula to offset costs for some large-scale parades.

According to an emailed statement from the City of Vancouver, the formula applies to events granted “civic parade status” — such as the Pride Parade and the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade. These events are eligible for an offset of city costs, including those for policing, with a maximum of $50,000 for parades attended by more than 400,000, and up to $30,000 for those with between 100,000 and 400,000 in attendance.

Meanwhile, Surrey leaves 100 per cent of the costs to organizers.

“Why is Surrey not doing the same thing (as Vancouver)?” asked Sewak, adding that “it’s a good time” to raise the question with the mayoral candidates before the civic election.

While Safe Surrey mayoral candidate Doug McCallum hasn’t seen the preliminary study, he said his five-point public safety platform already includes offsetting policing costs for parades such as Vaisakhi and the Christmas Parade.

“There shouldn’t be any police costs,” McCallum told Vancouver Desi, adding that his platform promises to “make the RCMP more accountable for the $125 million that we spend for police costs in Surrey.”

“For those parades, all of them, the RCMP will have to cover within their current budget.”

Mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode said her platform also confronts the issue with its proposal to roll out 200 community safety officers.

“Second-tier policing will eliminate that cost for community groups that are wanting to hold festivals,” Rasode told Vancouver Desi.

“Any organization that is run by volunteers and adds great value to the city … they shouldn’t have the added burden (of policing costs).

“What I’m proposing is a real thought-out plan where taxpayers are also not left with that bill.

“And based on the study, absolutely it makes sense that we consider doing this.”

Surrey First mayoral candidate Linda Hepner did not respond to requests for comment.

While Sewak hopes the Dasmesh Darbar temple will commission a “full-fledged study,” he also cautions that it should not be a campaign issue to “forget and move on.”

“They struggle every year,” Sewak said of event organizers. “(The Vaisakhi parade has) grown, it’s growing. It will grow bigger, but it shouldn’t become a political schtick.”

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