Last year B.C. politicians recommended a provincewide police force — but no action is being taken

Most of B.C.'s municipalities are overseen by local RCMP detachments, though some have their own independent forces.  (Tom Popyk/CBC - image credit)
Most of B.C.'s municipalities are overseen by local RCMP detachments, though some have their own independent forces. (Tom Popyk/CBC - image credit)

Ten months ago, an all-party legislative committee recommended B.C. implement a provincial police service, replacing the current model, which consists of a patchwork of services overseen by local RCMP detachments, municipal forces, and often supplementary police services that link the two together.

But 10 months later, virtually no work has been done to move the issue forward — and no work seems likely anytime soon.

"It's not something that's on the front burner," said Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, who also said the province had begun work on smaller recommendations issued by the committee.

"We have a lot on our plate right now, so it's certainly not going to be in this parliament."

Farnworth's comments come as municipalities across the province are putting together their budgets for this year — an exercise that has become more expensive, and more controversial.

$1.2 billion in Metro Van police spending

Overall, municipalities in Metro Vancouver are budgeting more than $1.2 billion for policing expenses in 2023, based on analysis by CBC News.

Those budgets — some of which are only in the draft stage — range from Vancouver at $398 million to Belcarra at less than $100,000. The most contentious is Surrey's $338 million proposal — a giant increase driven by having both an RCMP and independent force at the moment, with uncertainty on which one will survive.

Excluding Surrey, Metro Vancouver's five local police departments will cost $555 for every resident, while residents in the region's 15 RCMP-controlled detachments will spend $312 each.

One of those local departments is New Westminster, where Mayor Patrick Johnstone says direct comparisons don't factor in the fact many local police departments are in communities with higher case loads.

But there are benefits as well, he argued.

"They feel they're more accountable to the local community and less accountable to Ottawa," said Johnstone.

"I think there's that feeling that if we do pay a bit of a premium to have a local police force, we receive benefits in having a more responsive police force."

Despite that, mayors with local forces have recently been critical of rules that place them as chair of their police board, while preventing them from being able to vote, creating questions around accountability.

"I think too often people don't know who the police board members are, they're not sure who the police board specifically answers to," Johnstone said.

Removing mayors as chairs of police boards was another recommendation in the committee report, but also has not been acted on as of yet.

'Balkanized police system'

Few people have talked about the merits of a provincewide police force more than Kash Heed, who floated the idea when he was B.C.'s Public Safety Minister in 2009.

"The balkanized police system that we have in Metro Vancouver and in other areas ... [is] costing the taxpayers a significant amount more money," he said.

Now that he's a city councillor in Richmond, his opinion on the pitfalls of the current system, which sees some municipalities operate their own police services and some under contract with the RCMP, has only gotten stronger.

"There's very little governance that can come from the City of Richmond. It's all completely controlled by the federal police agency," he said.

As for the pitfalls of moving to a local police service, Heed points across the Fraser River.

"We would stay away from this unbelievable waste of time and dispute that's going on with the Surrey Police Service and the RCMP and the local government … if we have a police service in place that actually serves the needs of the communities that make up Metro Vancouver."

While that seems unlikely for some time, there remain plenty of jurisdictional policing issues Farnworth's ministry will be forced to adjudicate in the interim — including the looming decision on the future of policing in Surrey.  

"There's a lot of things going on in this space right now," said Johnstone, "and I don't envy the solicitor general trying to figure it out."