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Surrey’s new mayor is rushing a bid to replace the RCMP as the municipal police force in British Columbia’s second-largest city without properly consulting the public on the complicated measure, a former RCMP commander says.

Fraser MacRae, who spent 35 years with the RCMP, eight of them as officer in charge of the Surrey detachment, was among speakers raising concerns about the policing agenda of Mayor Doug McCallum at a forum on the issue held on Tuesday by the Surrey Board of Trade. About 180 people attended.

“What I am saying is that a critical decision like this that is a game changer for this city needs to have more fulsome discussion and dialogue and examination and analysis to determine what’s the best path forward for the citizens of Surrey and this city," Mr. MacRae told reporters after his presentation to the board.

Mr. MacRae acknowledged a bias given his policing past, but said he was not speaking on behalf of the RCMP, which has served as Surrey’s police force since 1951.

Upon being sworn in last November, Mr. McCallum and his team, who won seven of eight council seats, passed a motion to proceed with a plan to end the city’s contract with the RCMP and create a new municipal police force they expect to be more responsive to community needs. It would be the first time a local Canadian government has replaced the Mounties since Cape Breton did so in 2000.

Work is under way on a plan the province would have to approve, but no details have been released.

Earlier, Mr. MacRae told board members there has been no formal consultation with community groups, the board of trade or Crown counsel.

“In my view, this entire initiative has been entered into without any diligence, study or consultation,” he said. “If the citizens of Surrey want to have their own police force, it’s good, but go through the proper process to make that determination.”

Asked about the issue, the office of Surrey’s mayor issued a statement on Tuesday after the forum, saying Mr. McCallum and council have been empowered to create a local police department given the result of the municipal election last fall.

“We are working diligently in creating a local force and our timeline has not changed since we embarked on this in November, which is to have the process completed within a two-year time period,” the statement said.

Mr. MacRae said the Surrey initiative is problematic with, for example, no data beyond a “guesstimate” on how many of the roughly 800 officers with the RCMP would move to the new force.

Even if half stay, he said Surrey would face a daunting challenge recruiting and facilitating the training of 400 officers with varying degrees of experience. “Think how this plays out if the number turns out to be only 200 [staying]," he said.

He also noted that while municipal officers can transport their pensions if they move to other municipal forces, Mounties cannot do the same – a reality that could deter Mounties from staying with the new force or joining it from someplace else.

Mike Larsen, chair of the Kwantlen Polytechnic University criminology department, said at the forum that Surrey has an opportunity, rare in Canada, to create a new police department that could be more representative and accountable.

However, he said there appears to be a rush that may not allow necessary stakeholder discussion. "I am well aware there is design work going on behind the scenes as to what a police force in Surrey would look like, but I think there’s a lot we could do to make that more public.”

Bob Rolls, a former deputy chief constable with the Vancouver Police Department, said it was possible, but tricky, for Surrey to proceed with its reform agenda, but it would be wise to have a contingency plan that would allow more time than the allotted two years.

Mr. Rolls had a leadership role in the Lower Mainland city of Richmond studying the idea of replacing the RCMP as their police force. He told the forum Richmond did public consultations before deciding not to proceed with change due to cost.

Mr. Rolls said it is hard to argue against dialogue that would inform the public. “Some of that is missing right now,” he said, referring to Surrey.

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