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British Columbia Public will get a say after all in creation of new Surrey, B.C., police force – after plan is sent to province

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum stands in front of a police car.

Ian Bailey/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

The mayor of Surrey, B.C., who has been accused of secrecy in planning to replace the RCMP with a new municipal force, now says he is open to public input to tweak the transition plan.

Doug McCallum says he is sticking to his policy to not release details of the plan before it goes to the province for consideration, but on Tuesday he announced a public consultation process during his first annual speech on the state of the city, British Columbia’s second largest.

And he said that process could lead to changes. “We always will listen to the public if they have got some ideas as far as what they want to see our police do.”

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Critics, including some councillors on the mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition slate, have expressed concerns about Mr. McCallum’s position that the report on replacing the RCMP not be released to the public before it goes to the Solicitor-General.

The report is being prepared by the general manager of the policing transition team, Terry Waterhouse, a former Vancouver Police Department constable and member of the criminology faculty at the University of the Fraser Valley. He was also general public safety manager for Surrey.

The provincial government will have to approve the plan to replace the Mounties – one of Mr. McCallum’s key commitments in last fall’s municipal election campaign.

The RCMP have policed Surrey since the 1950s, but the mayor has argued that a municipal force would be more accountable to residents and lead to better policing.

In his speech, Mr. McCallum said the plan will soon be submitted to the province and that he will then be eager to hear from the public.

"In the coming weeks, we will be asking our residents to tell us which priorities they want to see for their new city police and help guide it into the future,” he told an audience of about 130 people.

The mayor, who said he has yet to see the document, said it’s up to the province to release the report.

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In a statement, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth declined comment on that issue.

“Surrey is following a process, and we’ll let that process take place. I look forward to seeing Surrey’s plan when we receive it. It’s understandable that when there is a decision that has a large impact, like the transition in Surrey, citizens would be interested in the possibilities being considered,” Mr. Farnworth said.

Jack Hundial, a councillor who also served as a member of the RCMP in Surrey, said he remains concerned about the lack of public consultation to date.

In an interview, Mr. Hundial said he thinks the report should be released to the public before it goes to the province. “I don’t feel the process, at this point, has been transparent.”

He said he submitted a motion at this week’s meeting of the public safety committee that calls for the release of a full or redacted copy of the policing transition report within 10 days of it being submitted to the province. The motion, he said, will be heard at a future committee meeting. The next one is in July.

During his speech, Mr. McCallum said previous councils were scared off replacing the RCMP because of costs and criticism. “There is no question that the policing transition is a minefield,” he said.

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But he said that, with provincial approval, the new municipal force will be patrolling Surrey streets by July, 2020.

To illustrate the goal, the city had a mock Surrey Police cruiser – actually a redesigned municipal vehicle – on display outside the hotel where Mr. McCallum delivered his speech.

Assistant RCMP Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, the officer in charge of the RCMP force in Surrey, said the 2020 deadline is “very ambitious” and "a very tight timeline when you consider policing a city of this size.” But he said he could not comment on how realistic it is because he has not seen the report.

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