British Columbia

Surrey gets final approval from province for municipal police force

The next step will be establishing a police board, but the timeline remains unclear.

Next step is establishing police board, but timeline remains unclear

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum stands near a mock-up of a Surrey city police vehicle during his state of the city address in Surrey, B.C., in May 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The B.C. government officially gave Surrey the go-ahead Thursday to replace the RCMP with a municipal police force.

A news release from Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth's office says he's confident key aspects of the transition plan that required more detail have been thoroughly considered.

The province gave its initial approval in August when it announced a task force to ensure the city's transition plan addressed all major issues. That work has now concluded.

The policing transition committee was chaired by former attorney general Wally Oppal and included representatives from the City of Surrey, the ministry, and independent experts.

"Policing is a municipal responsibility," Farnworth said.

Many questions remain, however, about whether Mayor Doug McCallum can deliver on his promise for Surrey Police Department patrols to begin in April 2021.

Oppal, who put together a 450-page report on the transition, has called that timeline "ambitious."

That's because the city still doesn't have a police board in place, which will be responsible for setting out priorities and hiring a new chief.

Farnworth said it's ambitions but feasible in theory. 

"If every step of the way is done and hits all the targets, if everything that has to be done is done, it is doable," he said. 

McCallum said Thursday that postings for the police board will go up in the coming days.

"The time has arrived, and some would say it's long overdue, for Surrey to have local control and responsibility over its policing," McCallum said.

"Citizens and business owners in Surrey can soon apply to be members of the Surrey Police Board through the province's online board selection process."

A report from the city pegs the cost of the transition at $19 million.

"In terms of the transition costs, those costs are borne by the City of Surrey — we have been clear about this right from the very beginning, In fact, the City of Surrey has put in their budget five-year transition costs," said Farnworth.

Many critics, including the union that represents more than 20,000 Mounties across the country, say that money would be better spent on hiring more RCMP officers in Surrey. Advocacy groups like Keep The RCMP In Surrey B.C. say they will campaign against the change and try to delay the transition to a municipal force as long as possible. 

With files from Jesse Johnston