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Surrey Police Service will replace RCMP on Nov. 29, according to Mike Farnworth

B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general said the B.C. RCMP will provide support to the SPS until the transition is completed

On Tuesday, the B.C. government took another step towards transitioning to a Surrey municipal police force, despite Mayor Brenda Locke and her council's opposition.

The handover of command to the new Surrey Police Service from the RCMP in B.C.’s second most-populous city is scheduled for Nov. 29.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth called it a “milestone” in the transition, but the specifics of how the SPS and the RCMP will operate together without the RCMP being under the command of another agency have not been determined. SPS officers have been under RCMP command for over two years during the controversial transition.

The issue arose last week when national RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme stated in a leaked letter to Farnworth that there was no legal authority allowing red to work under blue, referring to the color of the RCMP's red serge dress uniforms and the sometimes blue uniforms of municipal forces.

Farnworth insisted that the province and the federal government had reached an agreement that did not require legislative change at the federal or provincial level. He stated that he would issue a notice in the coming weeks to the City of Surrey to terminate the city's police unit agreement with the province for the use of the RCMP as police of jurisdiction. At the same time, the Surrey RCMP will be removed from the province’s policing agreement with the federal government.

“More than anything, the people of Surrey want this to be over, and today we are turning the page on this chapter and beginning a new one,” Farnworth said at a news conference in Vancouver.

The minister, along with Surrey Police Service Chief Constable Norm Lipinski and RCMP Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, made the announcement together.

He stated that their joint appearance at the announcement demonstrates that they are all collaborating, and expressed confidence that the professional police in both forces would continue to work together to keep Surrey safe.

Locke responded on Tuesday by dismissing Farnworth’s aspirational date for a handover as a desperate attempt to show progress shortly before the matter will be heard in court.

In a written statement, the mayor stated that over the last five years, substantial plans for this transition have never been completed despite claims of progress. She added that the minister’s comments raise more questions and doubts about the province’s ability to handle the best interests of public safety and the people of Surrey.

When asked how the RCMP would work with the SPS without being under the authoritative command of the SPS, McDonald said “the devil is in the details.”

“The working groups will ensure that whatever operational model is developed, it will address the concerns of the (RCMP) commissioner regarding red under blue and outline the path forward for Surrey Police to be police of jurisdiction,” McDonald said.

On Tuesday, Farnworth also mentioned that the hiring and deployment of SPS officers will increase while the number of RCMP officers will decrease.

There are presently 367 SPS officers employed. The authorized strength of the force is 834.

When asked how new SPS officers will be funded given that Surrey’s city council has hesitated to pay for new hires and its proposed budget doesn’t include hiring more SPS officers, Farnworth stated that $150 million offered to the city to help with the transition will be used for that purpose.

However, that would be a temporary solution, and when asked, Farnworth said the province has the power, through the director of police services, to impose a police budget on the city.

Lipinksi stated that he has full confidence in the officers and civilian staff already hired to continue to build the municipal force in collaboration with the people of Surrey. “We have an incredibly busy seven months ahead of us,” said Lipinski.

Farnworth’s announcement comes a week before a five-day hearing in B.C. Supreme Court begins with the City of Surrey trying to overturn the B.C. government’s decision to force the transition.

The Surrey police dispute is in its 18th month.

Locke and her majority council have been fighting since their election in the fall of 2022 to keep the RCMP, largely because the force is less expensive.

Under former mayor Doug McCallum, a 2019 transition plan argued Surrey was the largest city in Canada without its own municipal force, which would bring oversight to the local level, rather than Ottawa, and be more responsive to changing conditions and demands, and representative of the community.

The increased cost of the SPS over the RCMP has been estimated by the province at up to $30 million a year, or about 15 per cent more than the RCMP.

Initially, the B.C. government offered $150 million over five years to offset costs of the transition and then added another $20 million annually in the succeeding five years to cover the difference in cost between RCMP and the Surrey Police Service. That total  $250-million offer was rejected two weeks ago by Locke and her majority council.

Related

  • Farnworth vows Surrey police transition plan on solid ground even as RCMP ramps up hiring
  • Vaughn Palmer: Final offer on Surrey policing? Yeah, right

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