British Columbia

Surrey residents who want to keep RCMP in city are blocked from voicing concerns to police board

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum says the transition to a municipal force has been finalized and condemned certain groups for trying to derail it. His comments have prompted the National Police Federation to consider legal action against him and the city's new police board.

Mayor says transition is done deal, attacks opponents; police federation considers legal action over comments

Protesters opposed to transitioning to a municipal police force in Surrey stand outside city hall on Sept. 15. The city's mayor says delegations against the transition are not welcome to address the new police board. (Keep the RCMP in Surrey/Facebook)

At the Surrey Police Board's second meeting Tuesday night, there was no vocal opposition from residents against the plan to transition from the RCMP to a municipal force — because anyone opposed to the idea was kept out of the room.

Mayor Doug McCallum confirmed Wednesday the new board will not hear from speakers who want to keep the RCMP in the city, despite concerns from taxpayers and the National Police Federation. He said the decision to move to a municipal force has been finalized and there is no longer a debate to be had.

'It's a done deal by the province and we are moving forward,' said McCallum on CBC's The Early Edition.

The B.C. government approved the switch in February and appointed the board in June to oversee the new force.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum stands by a mock-up of a Surrey city police vehicle in May 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The mayor said it is outside the scope of the board to be hearing from delegations that still prefer the RCMP and it will only hear from people who want to talk about the new police service.

"The ones that want to keep the RCMP in Surrey — that decision is gone," said McCallum, who campaigned on a promise to switch out the federal force.

Linda Annis, a Surrey city councillor, says she does not agree with McCallum's assessment.

"The mayor thinks it's a done deal but for thousands of residents of Surrey, it's not," Annis said, referring to nearly 50,000 residents who have signed a petition against the switch.

Annis said she's concerned about the singular focus on the police transition, especially because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Quite frankly, during the pandemic, we need to be putting a pause on it and we need to be helping our residents and our businesses in Surrey," she said, noting that some recreation centres and aquatic centres have remained closed and 2,000 city employees had been laid off. 

"We were moving forward in a great, great way to be able to support all these young families that are moving here and I fear right now that's come to a halt."

Since McCallum took office in 2018, several city councillors have quit, citing lack of transparency around the transition to a municipal police force as a factor in their decisions.

Surrey is only municipality in Canada with more than 300,000 residents that doesn't have its own police force. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

On Monday, the National Police Federation (NPF) released a statement saying the plan was still unpopular with many councillors and residents and president Brian Sauvé called on the board to reveal the full cost of McCallum's transition plan.

"We've already seen IT costs balloon by $500,000, but there are dozens of other major hidden or unknown costs that the board must get to the bottom of," said Sauvé. 

"While the mayor might find it politically expedient to ignore these questions, we ask the board to govern in residents' interests and take the time needed to disclose to taxpayers how much this expensive and unpopular [move] will really cost them."

McCallum said the board will present its budget to city council by the end of November.

NPF considers legal action

McCallum also released a statement Monday specifically addressing the NPF and a local group called Keep the RCMP in Surrey, who the mayor said are using "unethical tactics, publicity stunts and racist elements" to try to derail the transition plan.

The mayor did not specify which incidents he was referring to.

Sauvé said Wednesday the NPF has, to his knowledge, not used any unethical tactics and action taken in Surrey by the federation has been primarily conducting resident polls to see how much local support there is to remove the RCMP.

Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said McCallum's claims the NPF acted in an unethical or divisive way are untrue and the federation is now 'exploring all of [its] legal options with respect to that.' (CBC)

He said McCallum's claims the NPF acted in an unethical or divisive way are untrue and the federation is now "exploring all of [its] legal options with respect to that."

According to Sauvé, three polls commissioned by the NPF showed Surrey residents "overwhelmingly" want a referendum regarding the police force transition and are concerned about the cost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"All we have done is bring evidence and transparency to the residents of Surrey," said Sauvé.

"If the mayor believes that is racist or discriminatory in nature then that's the mayor's problem and the mayor will have to answer for it," he said.

'It's getting nasty'

Rob Gordon, criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said there is too much politics at play when it comes to the municipal versus federal police force debate in Surrey and the provincial government needs to step in.

Gordon told CBC on Thursday the NPF are fighting for turf in Surrey because they worry other municipalities will follow the city's lead and replace the RCMP.

He also said the province is not intervening because there is the possibility of an election this fall and Surrey is an NDP stronghold.

"The province cannot sit on its hands anymore on this issue," said Gordon, "It's getting nasty."

He said a government committee was tasked with reviewing the structure of the police in B.C. this summer and the province should tell Surrey to pause their transition process until that review is completed.

"That would be the most sensible way of proceeding, but I don't hear any murmur from Victoria to that effect," said Gordon.

With files from The Early Edition, On The Coast

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