The British Columbia government is urging the new council in Surrey, the province’s second-largest city, to follow through on the previous council’s plan to end the municipality’s relationship with the RCMP, saying it’s the best option to ensure public safety locally and across the province.
B.C. Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth said at a Friday news conference that an analysis by the provincial government had found that if Surrey were to revert to the RCMP it would create a policing shortage in the rest of the province, by straining scarce Mountie resources.
The Minister avoided any criticism of the RCMP, which has been under scrutiny because of police staffing shortages in the province, and because of the recent Mass Casualty Commission report on failures in the force’s handling of the mass killing in Nova Scotia three years ago.
Surrey decided in 2018 to end its contract with the RCMP and instead start a municipal force, the Surrey Police Service. The shift was championed by the city’s mayor at the time, Doug McCallum, who argued a local force would be more responsive to the community. In the 2022 mayoral election, Mr. McCallum was defeated by Brenda Locke, who campaigned on keeping the RCMP. She and the city’s council have since passed a motion to roll back the change.
Surrey is currently midtransition, with some officers and staff members already hired for the local force. Ending the RCMP contract would be the biggest policing transition ever undertaken in Canada. Ms. Locke has argued that sticking with the Mounties would be less expensive for the city, and that the RCMP have kept crime down.
On Friday, Mr. Farnworth pledged millions in provincial money to help the city transition to a stand-alone force. But he said if the new city council stuck with its pledge to abandon the fledgling SPS the province would provide no help with the $72-million in severance costs for the disbanded Surrey service.
“The RCMP have significant recruiting challenges right now, and with 1,500 vacancies across B.C. we cannot afford to make it worse,” he said.
“Moving backwards to the RCMP in Surrey could come at a cost of staffing positions elsewhere in the province.”
A recent analysis by The Globe and Mail showed that the RCMP are missing about a fifth of their work force in B.C. because of unfilled vacancies and extended leaves.
Ms. Locke said her council will stick to its commitment to keep the RCMP, calling the province’s approach disgraceful and saying she won’t be bought off with last-minute offers of cash.
“Politics, and not public safety, seem to be the driving force,” she told reporters.
Brian Sauvé, president and chief executive of the National Police Federation, the union that represents RCMP officers below the rank of inspector, welcomed Ms. Locke’s support.
“This has never been about public safety, but rather a political project started by a former mayor run amok and now exacerbated by the province, costing all B.C. residents millions of dollars,” Mr. Sauvé said.
Mr. Farnworth acknowledged that he does not have the power to force Surrey to continue transitioning to a municipal police force.
If Surrey chooses to proceed with the municipal force, he said, the province will help the city deal with the estimated $30-million in extra annual costs it will need to shoulder as a result. This is the first time the province has offered any money to help with the transition, or contributed to a B.C. city’s police budget. Mr. Farnworth did not say how long that assistance would last.
Surrey will be barred from hiring RCMP officers from other B.C. cities to bring the force back up to its previous numbers, he said.
The government has compiled a 500-page report on its analysis of policing in Surrey. Ms. Locke said her council will study it, though she noted that many sections are blacked out.
She argued that $30-million a year is only part of the extra cost of a municipal force. That amount covers the difference in salaries between the RCMP and the new service, but doesn’t include the loss of the 10-per-cent policing subsidy the federal government offers to cities policed by the RCMP.
The Surrey Police Service has already hired 397 officers and civilians during its two years of operation. Surrey council authorized 843 officer positions.
Curt Griffiths, a policing expert who has done consulting work on the transition, said he believes the province’s decision is part of a much bigger national shift.
“This is part of a reshaping of policing in Canada,” said Mr. Griffiths, who is also the director of the Police Studies Centre in Simon Fraser University’s criminology department.
Although the RCMP were once successful at convincing politicians and the public that they were the best policing option, he said, that is changing as the force comes under scrutiny, both for internal problems with sexual harassment, and for external problems related to its handling of major events.
Like other critics of the RCMP, he said the force tries to do too much by covering both federal policing issues and local contract policing.
“They have great people, but they work in a totally dysfunctional organization that is impervious to reform, with poor leadership. They’re trying to do too much. They’re spread too thin.”