B.C. Premier John Horgan says Surrey’s city leaders need to make a better case to residents to justify plans to replace the RCMP with a new municipal police force.
Public consultations were to begin Thursday, but the province’s second-largest city has yet to release a detailed report, submitted this week to the province, on how the new force will work.
On Thursday, Mr. Horgan said his Public Safety Minister had just begun to review the report, prepared by a policing transition team ahead of a decision on whether to launch the new force by next July.
“I would argue, and I have made the case to [Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum], that the public needs to have a clear understanding why there would be a requirement to change, what the cost of that change will be and will there be diminishment or improvement in the delivery of services to people,” the Premier said in Surrey.
“I can’t answer those basic questions because I don’t know, and if I can’t, I assume that the public can’t either.”
At issue is a commitment by Mr. McCallum to replace the RCMP, which has provided policing on contract since the 1950s. During the municipal election campaign last fall, he argued that a new municipal force could provide more responsive policing for Surrey than the Mounties.
The plan has become controversial, with some, including the city’s board of trade, opposed to the idea. Some city councillors have demanded greater transparency on the contents of the plan.
The Premier said Mr. McCallum and council have every right to review and decide how they are going to conduct business for the city.
“Mayor McCallum has been consistent in his message on this – I give him full credit for that," he said. "But now we have to take a look at the details, and the public will have to make a decision, and the province, of course, will have to make a decision on what’s in the best interest in protecting the people in this community.”
Surrey city councillors have been briefed on the plan in an in-camera meeting, and one said the contents will be shocking to city residents.
Linda Annis, the last, lone member of the Surrey First party that dominated the city’s politics for a decade, said she can’t talk about what she heard except to say: “I think there are a number of key details that would shock our community when it comes to the numbers and the size of the proposed Surrey force.”
Given that city taxpayers paid for the report, Ms. Annis said in a statement, they are entitled to see the document so they can raise questions about the contents.
“Frankly, all of this secrecy and behind-closed-doors decision-making flies in the face of full transparency, something you’d expect from any police department. I want complete transparency and public consultation where people have all the facts and can ask serious questions,” she said.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Thursday that he will take his time deciding whether to allow Surrey to proceed with its policing plan.
“Surrey’s proposal for an independent police department is a statutory process that deals with many complex issues, so it will be important not to rush this," he said in a statement
He also said he has told Mr. McCallum that the report, in some form, should be made available to the public in the coming weeks.
Mr. McCallum did not address that issue in a statement this week, only confirming that the report was completed and had been sent to Victoria. According to the statement, the mayor will have no other comment on the matter.