Province must move faster on police reform, municipal leaders in B.C. say
Province began study in 2020, but mayors and councillors say mental health issues need urgent solutions
Local politicians across British Columbia urged the provincial government on Monday to start moving on reforms to policing after consultations that began more than two years ago but have yet to yield any concrete action.
"I believe the provincial government has failed us," said Kamloops Coun. Mike O'Reilly at an event at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler focused on provincial plans to reform policing and public safety across the province.
O'Reilly said that a lack of movement on police reform (first announced in July 2020) or how the province deals with repeat offenders (first announced this May) had contributed to a culture of increasing unrest and vigilantism in communities.
"We can't keep up with that if we move at this pace," he said.
"Something has to happen in short order. We can't keep waiting … Get things implemented, or at least get things moving, so people at least feel they're being heard."
Policing takes up the biggest section of the budget in any municipality (typically between 15 to 30 per cent of overall expenses), and municipalities have often lamented the inability for them to have greater oversight.
'Our communities are hurting'
O'Reilly's comments were among the most heated to provincial officials at a session where the government outlined work done to date and the next steps.
But neither the NDP MLAs on the panel nor Wayne Rideout, the province's director of police services, were able to give a timeline on when changes would come.
"These recommendations are not surprising or shocking to us … we're working through that and making sure the government knows the implications," said Rideout.
He talked about the general support for many of the recommendations made by an all-party committee, including Indigenous communities having direct input into their police services, and government creating and appropriately funding a continuum of responses to mental health and addiction issues.
But wanting more specifics on what would be prioritized — and if any changes could come quickly — was a repeated theme from delegates.
"Some of the proposed revisions are great, but they're long term," said Courtenay Coun. Claire Moglove, who maintained expanding auxiliary police programs and providing more funds for mental health providers asked to partner with police would yield immediate dividends.
"In the short term, our communities are hurting, and I think the government has heard us on this."
Will provincial force happen?
But there are serious questions about the biggest recommendation from the committee — replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force.
David Eby, who is the frontrunner to become premier this fall, has not endorsed the idea, and NDP MLA Doug Routley, the chair of the police reform committee, admitted "he is unsure about that aspect of that," but said such a transition would be a decade-long effort.
In addition, Coquitlam Coun. Craig Hodge, the chair of the UBCM's community safety committee, said the committee did not endorse the change, arguing that it would be more productive to work with the RCMP to make reforms within the current model.
"There's always the concern of loss of autonomy and whether you can deliver higher levels of service," said Hodge.
"How do you meet community expectations in each community if you're dealing with a regional police force?"
At the same time, he said there were more pressing short-term issues around the proper resourcing of mental health issues that the province needs to address.
"It's tying up police, but … it needs to be dealt with from a health perspective," he said.
"Our first immediate thing we need to do is deal with the opioid and mental health crisis, get the proper resources in there … let's get that resourced properly, and that's going to free up some officers to deal with other things going on in our community."