British Columbia

Surrey mayoral candidate proposes referendum on city police force

A Surrey city councillor and mayoral candidate says he wants the city to have a referendum on starting its own municipal police force.

Tom Gill says municipal referendum could be held on the question sometime in 2019

Tom Gill is the Surrey First candidate for mayor in the upcoming Oct. 20 civic election. (CBC)

A Surrey city councillor and mayoral candidate says he wants the city to have a referendum on establishing its own municipal police force.

Currently, policing in Surrey is provided by 835 Mounties, making the Surrey detachment the largest municipal RCMP force in the country.

Coun. Tom Gill says he'll introduce a motion next week calling on staff to launch an extensive review of policing options, including the return of a city-run police force similar to those in Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford and nine other B.C. cities.

The RCMP assumed policing duties in Surrey in 1951.

Following extensive consultation, Gill says a municipal referendum could be held on the question sometime in 2019.

The Surrey detachment is the largest municipal RCMP force in the country, with almost 850 Mounties. (CBC)

Crime a top issue

Policing and gangs have emerged as one of the top issues in the upcoming civic election for the city, following a series of shootings and subsequent large anti-crime rallies.

"Frankly, I think we need to ask ourselves if we've outgrown the RCMP," Gill said in a statement on Monday.

"There's a reason other major cities across the country have their own police force, and why the RCMP tend to police smaller communities," he said.

"The RCMP started with us back in 1951. A lot has changed over the past 67 years and today we're a large urban city."

Gill was recently selected as the mayoral candidate by the city's ruling municipal party Surrey First. He has served on city council since 2005.

'Tired of referendums'

But some are questioning Gill's timing, asking why he has waited until there's an imminent election to call for a referendum when his Surrey First party has been in power for years. 

"Gill clearly wants to be the mayor, so clearly he's coming up with novel ideas about attracting votes," said Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon. "This is not, in my view, a very well-founded position to take."

The "Wake Up" rally against gang violence in Surrey on Wednesday evening attracted around 3,000 people, organizers estimated. (Meera Bains/CBC)

Coun. Bruce Hayne, who is also mulling over a run at the mayor's job, welcomes studying the idea of a Surrey police force — but doesn't want a referendum.

"I'm not sure that the cost of a referendum and so on is necessary," Hayne said. "I think the people of B.C. and the people of Surrey are a bit tired of referendums."

Gill says politics isn't at the heart of his idea but, instead, it's about the city having more of a say on public safety issues.

Surrey would have to give two years notice to break its policing contract with the RCMP. The transition to a municipal force would take about five years.

With files from Jesse Johnston

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