Province says RCMP should leave Surrey, B.C., to local force for safety reasons
VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is recommending the City of Surrey continue its transition to an independent police force in what is another rebuke of the RCMP's ability to conduct local policing in Canada.
The provincial government's recommendation Friday to support the municipal Surrey Police Service comes despite the wishes of the Metro Vancouver city's new mayor and council to revert to the RCMP.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said it's a safety issue because there are currently 1,500 RCMP vacancies in the province.
However, he said he still has "unwavering" support for Mounties.
"RCMP officers on the ground across B.C. protect our communities each and every day. The director of police services' report makes it clear that backtracking to the RCMP risked reducing police presence in other regions."
The policing decision for Surrey comes a month after an inquiry report into Canada's worst mass shooting in Nova Scotia recommended Ottawa rethink the RCMP's central role in Canadian policing.
It found widespread failures in how the Mounties responded to the shooting where 22 people were murdered in April 2020 by a man disguised as an RCMP officer who was driving a replica police vehicle.
Last year, an all-party committee examining reforming B.C.'s Police Act recommended dropping the RCMP and forming a provincial police force.
Alberta has also formally reviewed moving to a provincial force.
Farnworth said the RCMP has "significant recruitment challenges" in the province and keeping the service in Surrey would make it worse.
"Moving backwards to the RCMP in Surrey could come at the cost of staffing positions in other areas of the province," he said.
"As solicitor general, it is my duty to make sure that the decision on the transition ensures public safety, not just for the people of Surrey, but for everyone in B.C.," Farnworth said.
The transition to the Surrey Police Force was well established when Brenda Locke won the mayor's seat on a campaign promise to change its policing service back to the RCMP.
She said Friday that her council and city staff will review the government's report.
"We will act in the best interests of the citizens of Surrey," she said at a news conference.
Locke said she has had little time to review the report recommending the independent Surrey Police Service, but "so far. I haven't seen anything that would change our minds."
One of B.C.'s top ranking RCMP officers said the force will continue to perform its duties as the situation in Surrey evolves.
"We are committed to fulfilling our obligations," said Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, the commanding officer of B.C.'s E Division. "I will not politicize this decision."
But McDonald did say of the 1,500 RCMP vacancies that about 1,000 represent people on leaves, such as sick or maternity leaves, or leaves without pay.
Surrey RCMP assistant commissioner Brian Edwards said violent crime statistics in Surrey have been declining over the past 11 years.
Farnworth said the government's recommendation is not binding on Surrey, but it has placed several mandatory conditions on the city should it decide to retain the RCMP.
The government will offer financial assistance for the transition to the municipal police force, which could be up to $30 million a year over five years, he said.
Farnworth said that if the city decides to go with the local force, it would save $72 million in severance fees for the staff already hired by the Surrey Police Service.
If the city it goes back to the RCMP, the government will not help pay that severance, he said.
Both the RCMP and the Surrey Police Service are currently working in the city.
Farnworth said he agreed with a systematic review by the director of police services that the best way to achieve public safety in B.C. is with the local police force.
It said filling those 1,500 vacancies is the responsibility of the federal government.
The 500-page report from the director of police services details concerns about the RCMP's current retention and recruitment challenges and outlines potential implications of the presence of Mounties in other regions of the province if the transition is reversed.
Farnworth said he knows there's frustration in the city after years of uncertainly.
“Now is not the time to put public safety at risk in Surrey or in any community in the province.”
Chief Constable Norm Lipinski of the Surrey Police Service said in a statement that Surrey council should recognize it's times to continue with the changes underway.
“This is a rare opportunity to build a police service that is rooted in the principles, values and realities of today’s world, and a chance to redefine policing for Surrey," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press