Premier David Eby says Surrey’s policing transition issue has “gone on too long” and closure is needed “as quickly as possible.”
Eby told reporters in Victoria on Monday that he’s had a “couple” of “constructive” conversations with Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke, who was saddled Friday with a redacted report as Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth went public with the provincial government’s “recommendation” that Surrey should continue to ramp up with the Surrey Police Service to replace the Surrey RCMP.
“There’ll be a briefing for the mayor and council with an opportunity to review the full un-redacted report of course so they may have all the information that they need for their deliberations,” Eby said.
After that’s done, the premier said, he and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth will “be available to sit down and work out a path forward. We know that the only way forward on the issue of public safety in Surrey is in partnership with the city and that’s what we’ll be working towards.”
“We need to get closure on this as quickly as possible, the people of Surrey need clarity about direction,” Eby stressed. “This has gone on too long.”
As for arriving at a “clear path forward,” he said, “I don’t prejudge the timing on that but I feel a sense of urgency about it. I’m sure mayor and council do as well and I know the people of Surrey certainly do.
“The provincial government can’t deliver safety in Surrey by ourselves,” Eby said. “We’re going to be needing the mayor and city council to be working with us and that’ll be the push going forward, it to get us all on the same page now that all the facts are there. They’ll be getting a full briefing on the entire report, they’ll have the same baseline information that we do and that’ll enable us to hopefully move this to a conclusion and get certainty for the people of Surrey.”
He said he doesn’t want to see the Surrey RCMP pulling Mounties from other communities in B.C. to fill out its ranks.
“I think that one of the realities here is that minister Farnworth, the public safety minister, has tried to be hands-off on what is a local issue, how communities want to be policed,” Eby told reporters. “I think that the content of the report, the concerns about the impacts on public safety in other RCMP police jurisdictions caused him to want to be more involved and caused me and our government to want to encourage Surrey to take an option that’s going to have less of an impact on surrounding areas satisfying a provincial public safety priority and at the same time the concerns that have been raised around cost in the city of Surrey itself.”
Ask why Locke was handed a redacted report, Eby’s explanation was that the Surrey RCMP and Surrey Police Service were required to provide “very” detailed operations information and both forces “advised us if it were publicly released it would put police officers at risk or the public at risk.”
He added he would “certainly” like to be able to release more information to the public.
“I think that the mayor and I have a shared perspective which is we’ve got to find a path forward; we’re going to be working together for a while and we’re going to be working together for the benefit of the people of Surrey and that’s my aim and I know that’s her aim and I’m sure we’ll find a common ground here.”
Eby said Farnworth was confronted with a “significant potential risk” to public safety in “non-Surrey areas” that are policed by the RCMP if Surrey sticks with the Mounties as its police of jurisdiction.
“We’re having a really hard time getting recruits out of the depot for the RCMP,” he said. “We are short RCMP officers across the province despite putting additional funding on the table for more officers in community and so we’re encouraging Surrey to head in this particular direction as a benefit we think not just for Surrey but for in fact the entire province.”
Locke could not be reached for comment Monday.
“I’m advised that the Mayor is quite busy today with meetings/Council, so I don’t believe she will be able to accommodate,” Amy Jugpal, communications and media relations lead for the City of Surrey, told the Now-Leader in an email.
At Monday night’s council meeting Locke said she’s directed city staff to conduct a thorough analysis of the report, “including all aspects” of Farnworth’s recommendations.
“And while the review process will understandably take some time,” she said, “staff are working through it as efficiently as possible. Subsequently, the report will be brought back to council in the near future for its careful consideration and in the meantime we will continue with the important work of the city and as always, public safety for the citizens of Surrey is first and foremost for every one of us on council.
“I will not be making any further statements until such time as that report is provided to us,” Locke said.
Meantime, Coun. Rob Stutt of Surrey Connect, and retired Surrey Mountie, said there is nothing in the redacted report “that would swing me at all” to change his position that Surrey “absolutely” should stick with the RCMP. “From what I have read, and I have read the entire package, there’s nothing that would change my opinion.”
Stutt noted it’s taken longer to get this report than it did for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General to approve “a brand-spanking new police department.
“It took them four months to do that, and six months to do this,” he said. “Another thing that concerns me over this whole process is in order to come to where we’ve come today, there’s been three assistant deputy ministers of policing. I hardly understand how that brings any continuity to an ongoing thing. I personally have grave concerns, serious concerns over that.”
Another thing that has Stutt concerned is that Farnworth “put all sorts of conditions on the RCMP and very few on the SPS.
“I think something that’s very, very much overlooked here is if you were to inquire with our neighbours in New West and Delta, West Vancouver, they’re literally getting picked apart by this. So, the minister doesn’t seem to be concerned about that but he’s concerned about maybe somebody from Prince George coming here. That’s a huge problem for me. The other thing is he’s not concerned if somebody left Prince George to go to the SPS, so the double standard to me is reflective of kind-of a pre-made decision.”
Coun. Harry Bains, also of Surrey Connect, says having more information is “always better,” but at this point he’s sticking to his position that keeping the RCMP is the best way to go. He said he looks forward to receiving an un-redacted copy of the provincial government’s report.
“If we’re taking about public safety in the province and we’re talking about public safety in the City of Surrey, and it’s an issue if the RCMP were to recruit officers from other police forces or even other areas, why does that not apply when it’s the Surrey Police Service? Is it not the same problem? Is it not the same issue?”
Bains said there needs to be better communication between the two levels of government.
“I mean, we are the mayor and council of the second-largest city in British Columbia and we received the report after the minister’s press conference started. I mean, there’s no communication from what I understand.”
Coun. Mike Bose, of Surrey First, said at this point nothing has changed his view that the city should continue with the RCMP. “My mind hasn’t changed. Personally I believe right now that the RCMP are a better choice. I’m not 100 per cent sold on their public safety concerns. If one force can’t recruit officers I don’t see how another one can.”
Coun. Gordon Hepner, of Surrey Connect, said he’d “love” to have a sit-down with the premier on this.
He said he hasn’t moved from his position of keeping the RCMP, but added that “every politician that has an open mind I believe has to look at all of the facts and has to look at look at all of the actual aspects of both sides of the story. You can’t look at it in a vacuum.
“I would much prefer that the provincial government just sit down and we could bang out a plan. Maybe that is with the SPS, who knows, right? But right now it’s a non-starter because in essence all they said was hey, by the way, this is what we recommend. Well, you can recommend whatever we like, it was your job to actually voice which direction we’re going, because you set up the police board. We can’t dismantle the police board.
“This is not my baby, like I didn’t run on this,” Hepner pointed out. “Like I was running on provide good governance in the city within the actual tax parameters I think we should actually fall within.”
“Maybe it’ll work out perfectly, but I don’t know. There’s just not enough information right now to justify a decision either way.”