Surrey asks court for review to stop police transition

The City of Surrey says it has launched legal proceedings in the Supreme Court of B.C., asking for a judicial review of the province’s order to continue with the municipal police force transition.

In a statement Friday morning, the city says that at a time when “residents are facing existing affordability challenges,” it is opposed to the transition that would result in a “significant additional tax burden.”

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The petition, which names Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth as the respondent, seeks to have the court declare that “the Province of British Columbia is without lawful authority to assign to the City the responsibility to transition the City’s police of jurisdiction from the police force established by the City,” under the Police Act.

This is the latest move in a more than five-year-long saga. On July 19, Farnworth directed the City of Surrey to replace its current RCMP force with the Surrey Police Service.

The petition from the city calls into question Farnworth’s decision, citing that since the municipal election in October 2022, “in which policing was a campaign issue,” its council has voted to retain the RCMP as the police force of jurisdiction (POJ) on two occasions.

It also notes that Farnworth has “acknowledged that the power to decide upon the City’s POJ rests with the City: ‘the City of Surrey is responsible for policing … it’s laid out in the Police Act. They are the ones who get to decide what kind of model they want.'”

The city says the province’s direction to continue with the transition will also leave the municipality with a more than $300 million shortfall over 10 years.

Surrey’s policing advisor says Surrey Police Board hasn’t hired enough officers ‘required’

Speaking to reporters, lawyer Peter German, advisor to the City of Surrey on policing, alleges that a city moving to a standalone, municipal police department is “unusual.”

“There’s a lot of stability in the Lower Mainland. We have about half the municipalities with an RCMP contract detachment. The other half with municipal police departments. Police officers work very well together, regardless of the colour of their stripe in the Lower Mainland,” German said.

He notes usually, a move to a municipal force occurs with an amalgamation, such as what happened in Ontario.

The city is taking policing very seriously, German says, as it directly affects taxpayers.

“The Surrey RCMP have been providing service to this community since 1950. And there’s been no indication that they haven’t been providing extremely effective and certainly adequate, if not more than adequate, police service to the City of Surrey.”

Surrey policing advisor Peter German

“So, to all of a sudden make a transition to a standalone department is unprecedented. Certainly, at this size,” he said.

German also notes that the city’s police board has been unable to hire the required amount of officers.

“They’ve hired somewhere in the area of 200 frontline officers. The RCMP in Surrey still has the large majority of frontline officers. … I believe the numbers as of September 13, 200 frontline officers from the Surrey Police Service versus 530 officers with the RCMP, so they’ve got a huge way to go, regardless of any legal action,” he said.

Locke letter claims Farnworth knows Surrey has right to choose policing model

On Friday, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke wrote to Farnworth and his ministries, notifying him of the legal petition. Friday, Oct. 13, is also the deadline for Locke to respond to Glen Lewis, B.C.’s director of police services after Lewis accused Locke of delaying a decision on the policing transition in a letter dated Oct. 4.

In Locke’s letter, she says that the city cannot support a transition that would see its residents face “an excessive and exorbitant double-digit tax increase for police costs only and for a police service that will not enhance public safety and may even compromise it.”

Locke says that while the Police Act outlines who is responsible for ensuring adequate and effective policing in the province, “it does not authorize the Minister to choose the model of policing for a municipality.”

“The model of policing is a decision that is the responsibility of the City of Surrey, set out by the Police Act,” Locke stated.

Related video: Surrey city councillor pushing mayor to complete police transition

Locke says Farnworth recognizes this fact, when interviewed by the city’s local newspaper, he is said to have stated: “… recognize that there are pieces of legislation underlying the whole process, which is the City of Surrey is responsible for policing. It is laid out in the Police Act. They are the ones who get to decide what kind of model they want.”

“Since the police transition was initiated in 2018, much has changed. An affordability crisis has deepened, the recruitment of police officers has proven to be harder than promised, and other priorities like housing, homelessness, and the opioid crisis require more urgent City attention and resources.

“The City takes seriously our obligation to maintain safe communities for Surrey residents. Keeping the RCMP is more affordable, more reliable, and is the right approach for the public interest,” Locke finished.

Farnworth introducing legislation Monday to ‘provide clarity to the people of Surrey’

In a statement, Farnworth says it is “extremely disappointing” that Surrey has decided to “spend significant taxpayer dollars on lawyers, trying to further delay the transition to the Surrey Police Service (SPS), by taking legal action against the Province.”

“People in Surrey want the uncertainty over who will police their city to end. They want this debate to be over. They want government money spent on protecting their communities instead of on legal fees to continue old fights that have dragged on too long. The decision has been made, and it’s time for the city to accept the decision and move forward with the police transition,” he continued.

Farnworth says that his July 19 decision to direct the city to continue with the transition was made with “my responsibility” to ensure community safety.

“It was made after careful consideration of all the information provided by the RCMP, the city, and the SPS, and it was not made lightly.

“The RCMP, SPS, and the federal and provincial governments have demonstrated their commitment on multiple occasions to move forward with this transition. The only party refusing to engage in this process is the City of Surrey.”

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth

Farnworth notes that the province’s offer of $150 million to go towards that transition has not been accepted by the city.

“On Monday, Oct. 16, I will be introducing legislation that will provide clarity to the people of Surrey, and will provide a clear process for any municipality that wants to change its police of jurisdiction. This legislation won’t be a surprise to the City of Surrey, we’ve discussed our intentions publicly over the past few months and city staff have been thoroughly briefed on its contents.

“People’s safety in Surrey and across the province is non-negotiable. We cannot allow people in Surrey or in other communities to be put at risk. British Columbians need to know that when they call the police, help will come,” Farnworth stated.

Related video: A full timeline of the Surrey policing saga as of July

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