Representatives of Surrey, B.C., have skipped the past two weekly meetings on replacing the RCMP with a new municipal force, prompting the chairman to cancel the sessions and adding to the turmoil around the massive project.
Meetings scheduled for the last two Thursdays were cancelled because Surrey representatives said they were not prepared, former provincial attorney-general Wally Oppal said Tuesday. On Monday, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum had issued a statement decrying the slow pace of the transition process.
“I am concerned," Mr. Oppal said in an interview. “On the one hand, the mayor wants this done in an expeditious way, and I share those concerns, and so does the whole transition committee. On the other hand, two out of the three meetings have been cancelled.”
Mr. Oppal is chair of a joint municipal-provincial committee named by the province in August after the NDP government approved Surrey’s bid to end its decades-old contract with the RCMP, and create a new municipal force for the city of about 570,000 residents.
Mr. McCallum was elected Surrey mayor in 2018 on a platform that proposed the policing overhaul, arguing that the new force would provide better and more accountable service for the city. However, concerns about the mayor’s policing plan have led three councillors to quit Mr. McCallum’s political coalition, which won seven of eight council seats.
The councillors had expressed concerns about secrecy around the transition plan prepared by city staff and the tight timeline.
Mr. Oppal’s committee was launched to work on parts of Surrey’s policing plan that the province deemed not fully developed, including IT and human resources issues.
The weekly meetings were supposed to be held in downtown Vancouver, but Mr. Oppal said he would travel to Surrey, about 30 kilometres southeast, if that would be more convenient.
The mayor’s office did not respond to Globe and Mail requests for comment.
Surrey City Councillor Linda Annis, who has criticized a lack of council and public consultation on the policing plan as well as the pace of change, said she found the missed meetings “shocking.”
“The mayor should be able to meet at any time with Mr. Oppal to provide whatever input Mr. Oppal is needing,” she said.
Mr. Oppal said there are a number of complicated issues to discuss, including training options for officers of the new Surrey force, deciding how to deal with unresolved Surrey RCMP investigations and prosecutions, the new force’s communications system, and how a new Surrey force would affect the general provincial policing strategy.
Mr. Oppal said Surrey has four representatives on the committee, including Terry Waterhouse, general manager of policing transition. There are also two provincial representatives, and three at-large, independent advisers including Fraser MacRae, the former officer in charge of Surrey’s RCMP detachment.
Earlier this week, Mr. McCallum issued a statement denouncing the pace of creating a new police force.
“The lack of progress to date is disappointing and is unfortunately due to bureaucratic red tape,” said the mayor’s statement. “We owe it to the people of Surrey to make this transition as quickly and smoothly as possible.”
Asked about the statement, Mr. Oppal said the process cannot be rushed because the results of the deliberations have to be in compliance with the police act.
“It’s not very helpful,” Mr. Oppal said of the mayor’s comment. “We’re building a police force from the ground up. It hasn’t been done very often."
“We’d be remiss in our duties if we simply rubber-stamped what was before us.”
He said he is confident that Surrey will eventually return to the table. And he said he expects the force will be ready by 2021, as scheduled. “I would like to think that since the timelines have been established, we will meet them."