British Columbia

Wally Oppal says replacing Surrey RCMP by April 2021 may be 'a bit optimistic'

Wally Oppal, chair of a task force that has prepared a 450-page report on what it will take to transition the city to a municipal police force, says there are still a lot of details to be worked out.

The former attorney general has been tasked with helping the city transition to a municipal police force

Wally Oppal, chair of the Surrey police transition task force, told reporters Wednesday at a Surrey Board of Trade event that he does not know what it would cost to replace the RCMP with a municipal police department. (CBC News/GP Mendoza)

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum wants an independent police force to replace the RCMP in the city by spring 2021 and the former attorney general he has tasked with planning how it will happen says that deadline might be unrealistic.

Wally Oppal, chair of the Surrey police transition task force, has spent the last four months with the committee preparing a 450-page report on what it will take to make the change. Oppal will present the findings Wednesday to the Surrey Board of Trade.

That report will be presented to Brenda Butterworth-Carr, director of police services for the province, and then to Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, who Oppal said will ultimately determine if the city is ready for the change.

"I don't want to contradict the mayor but [next spring] might be a bit optimistic," Oppal said Wednesday on The Early Edition. "You're starting a police department from scratch, from the ground up, and it's not easy."

He said some of the issues he and the task force have discussed include appointing a police board and chief, recruiting and training officers, as well as what will happen to ongoing investigations and prosecutions. 

Training institute full

A big concern, Oppal said, is that the Justice Institute of B.C. — which trains police officers — is currently full and it is unknown how many RCMP officers may decide to switch to the municipal force.

"A lot of this stuff is still up in the air," said Oppal, adding the Vancouver Police Department is also preparing for the possibility it will lose officers who live in Surrey and want to serve in their home city.

Following Oppal's presentation Wednesday morning, Surrey Councillor Linda Annis said in a statement that the reaction from the audience should indicate to the province that Surrey residents have serious concerns about plans for a local police force.

Annis said audience questions focused on costs, timing and transparency.

"The more people know, the more concerns they have and it's clear Surrey residents want the province to listen to their concerns and to have a real say in policing for their community," said Annis.

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

Oppal said the task force is not the deciding factor in the plan to transition, but is preparing information for the province to assess. According to the B.C. Police Act, the province has to consider any reasonable application from the city.

"It is not our job to either approve or disapprove of the application and we are not empowered to hold a referendum," said Oppal. "Hopefully the province will have what they need to decide whether or not Surrey has met the challenge."

After addressing the Surrey Board of Trade, Oppal told reporters he sees the benefits that both the RCMP or a municipal police department bring to the table. 

He said the RCMP have a national presence and expertise conducting complex investigations, whereas a municipal force would have better local accountability.

Oppal said Surrey is the largest city in Canada without its own police force. He does not know how much it would cost to make the transition.

With files from The Early Edition

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