Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke is finding herself in some choppy water after claiming last week that the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Committee unanimously backed her play to retain the RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction rather than continue with the transition to the Surrey Police Service.
“First off, that’s incorrect. The letter that is on its way to me is a letter requesting a decision, not about whether it should be Surrey Police Service or the RCMP,” Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth subsequently told reporters in Victoria.
But Locke is standing by her interpretation of the motion.
“I can tell you I have had countless, over the years, not just this year not just since I’ve been mayor, but over the years with many, many councillors and mayors about the issue so that was my interpretation.
“It’s my interpretation of what happened at the meeting – if somebody doesn’t agree with it, they don’t agree with it. But I’m not going to respond to people that weren’t in the room,” Locke told the Now-Leader.
As for Farnworth’s interpretation, she remarked, “he wasn’t there.”
“The comments that I’ve heard were not from anybody that was in the room at the time,” she said Tuesday. “That’s all I can really say about it. There seems to be a bit of a double standard about what people want to hear. It’s only conjecture and I’m not going to respond to it.”
Locke said last week that Delta Mayor George Harvie’s motion, which was passed unanimously on April 5, should send a clear message to the provincial NDP government that not only should the RCMP stay the course but a decision to that effect “must be made promptly.” Locke is the chairwoman of the 23-member mayors’ committee.
The Now-Leader has reached out to Harvie in the hope he will flesh out the intent of his motion, but he has not responded to requests for comment.
Harvie’s motion reads, “That the MVRD Board provide the City of Surrey with a letter of support requesting a provincial decision forthwith on the City’s request to have the RCMP provide policing services for the City of Surrey.”
His motion will be considered by the Metro Vancouver Board on April 28.
“I’ve got to tell you I hear from mayors all over, but particularly in Metro Vancouver because I see them all the time, they’re always asking me, so many of them, I constantly get asked when are they going to make a decision and why are they not honouring Surrey’s decision, I hear that all the time from mayors and councillors,” Locke said last week.
“I can’t think of one mayor that hasn’t said what’s taking them so long, you’ve given them all the information, it’s your decision to make, I wouldn’t want him to do that do us,” she said of Farnworth. “They understand the cost implications of this. It does affect them, and that’s the other thing – the instability of what safety is, is starting to impact others.”
Surrey Coun. Doug Elford, who supports the transition to the SPS, said last Thursday that Surrey’s contribution to the RCMP’s ‘E’ Division, “which is upwards $20 million per year,” shields other communities from “a lot” of financial burden.
“Surrey’s citizens have been carrying a lot of these committees when it comes to the “E” Division costs,” he said. “I think the real reason is it’s all about money, not about policing. I’m convinced Surrey carries a lot of the burden for the RCMP in the Lower Mainland. That’s what it boils down to if you think about it.”
“I’m curious if George (Harvie) would be interested in us giving him advice in how his police is, I mean he has his own municipal police force himself,” Elford said. “I’m struggling with this support with the RCMP.”
Elford said he suspects Harvie “got pressure” from mayors of cities that are policed by the RCMP “to support this kind of motion.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling that someone who has his own municipal force would support an RCMP detachment,” he said.
Elford said Monday that when he spoke with a Now-Leader reporter last Thursday he “didn’t have the information. That’s kind of why I went in that one direction but then when I got the actual minutes of the meeting it’s like, what?!”
His Safe Surrey Coalition slate then issued a press release stating Locke “misrepresented” the mayors’ committee vote, and “deceived the public and spread false information.”
Of the city’s press release, Elford said, “I don’t know why she would come out and do that, right. That’s a city taxpayer-based resource that’s she’s using for that. It’s very misleading, right. She should probably maybe apologize for that at least, to the taxpayers for misleading them. That’s kind of all we’re really asking.”
Locke is not contrite.
“An apology for what? My interpretation of what the motion said?”
Asked if the statement attributed to her – which was issued by the city’s communications department on April 5 and contained within quotation marks – were her words or were written by someone else, Locke replied, “We get statements that are written here and then I look at them, so sure, that’s how everybody does it.”
Who wrote it then? “I don’t know who wrote it honestly, I don’t know a thing about it.”
Locke said she reviewed it and signed off on it.
This is the text of the statement, attributed to Locke: “At today’s Metro Vancouver’s meeting of the Mayor’s Committee, a motion was made by Delta Mayor George Harvie to support Surrey’s decision to retain the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction. This motion was not only supported, but it was passed unanimously. It is clear the uncertainty of policing in Surrey extends beyond our borders and is adversely impacting neighbouring communities. The Mayor’s Committee is sending a clear message to the Solicitor General that Surrey should not only retain the RCMP, but a decision on this matter must be made promptly. Once again, I respectfully ask the Solicitor General to respect the municipality’s right to choose its police force and to not delay his decision any further.”
Meantime, Coun. Mandeep Nagra, also of the SSC, weighed in. “It’s disappointing to see Mayor Locke misrepresenting the facts in her press release,” a statement attributed to him reads in a SSC press release. “We believe that public officials should be held to a high standard of transparency and accountability, and issuing false information for your own political agenda undermines that trust. Mayor Locke should apologize to the public and media for issuing a false press release.”
The RCMP has been Surrey’s police of jurisdiction since it took over from the Surrey Police on May 1, 1951, as the result of a plebiscite. Surrey’s is the largest RCMP detachment in all of Canada.
On Nov. 5, 2018, the council of the day, led by mayor Doug McCallum, served notice to the provincial and federal governments that it would end its contract with the RCMP to set up its own force.
Four years and one civic election later, on Nov. 14, 2022, the current council led by Locke decided on a 5-4 vote to maintain the Surrey RCMP as this city’s police of jurisdiction instead of forging ahead with the Surrey Police Service.
Locke at Surrey’s April 3 council meeting asked the city’s finance manager Kam Grewal how much Farnworth’s “stall of the decision” has cost the city to date.
“In terms of effectively carrying two police organizations, that monthly burn rate, if you will, it’s approximately $8 million per month,” Grewal replied.
Locke said the city initially expected a decision by the end of January.
“It’s extremely disappointing, the minister knows full well the cost. He knows we’ve been waiting for this decision for a very long time. He knows that the RCMP have provided safe and effective policing in this city for 72 years. He knows that the city has made the decision to change to the RCMP and he also knows that in the Police Act it is the responsibility, the jurisdiction of the local government, to pick their police force,” she told the Now-Leader last week. “It is our right, according to the Police Act, to choose our police force.”
While taking the matter to court, if need be, is “absolutely” in the city’s toolkit, Locke said, “that would be an absolute last resort. But that is not my wish. I will take the word of the premier when he says to me it will go Surrey’s way. He said that. The previous premier said that, and this minister, this solicitor general, also said it is Surrey’s decision. The length of time it is taking them to make this decision is really unfortunate, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t take this kind of time to make the decision to go with the switchover that we’re into at this point. It’s too bad they didn’t do this kind of due diligence at the front end.”
Locke said at the “get-go” in 2018 there should have been a feasibility study done on not only how Surrey’s policing transition would impact the city but also the rest of the region. West Vancouver, Delta, New Westminster and Vancouver have lost police officers to Surrey’s transition to SPS, she noted. “Police officers are difficult to hire, so they’re not happy with that,” she said of her fellow Metro mayors.