The City of Surrey says the British Columbia government doesn’t have the jurisdiction and isn’t offering enough cash to force it to move to an independent police force in its latest volley over the fractious dispute.
The city issued a statement on Friday saying it was asking for a judicial review by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, challenging the province’s “lawful authority” to impose its choice of police force without providing the funding to support such a move.
On Friday, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke issued a public letter to B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, notifying him that the city would challenge an order made in July that says it must continue its transition from the RCMP to a separate, municipal police force.
In the letter, Locke said the city can’t accept the extraordinary burden that taxpayers will face because of the province’s order, describing the transition to establishing the Surrey Police Service as “far too expensive and poorly planned.”
“While the Police Act states the minister is responsible for ensuring an adequate and effective level of policing and law enforcement throughout B.C., it does not authorize the minister to choose the model of policing for a municipality,” Locke said in the letter.
Surrey was in the process of moving to the municipal force from the RCMP when Brenda Locke was elected a year ago as mayor on a promise to stop the transition and remain with the Mounties.
Farnworth said he was “extremely disappointed” with the legal challenge by Surrey, and that he planned to introduce legislation on Monday that will “provide clarity,” while setting out a clear process for any municipality that wants to change its police force.
“This legislation won’t be a surprise to the City of Surrey,” Farnworth said in a statement. “We’ve discussed our intentions publicly over the past few months and city staff have been thoroughly briefed on its contents.”
The minister said his decision in July to order the continuation of the transition to Surrey Police “was not made lightly,” and the people of Surrey want the uncertainty to end over their police force.
Farnworth also said the province’s offer of $150 million in financial assistance relating to the police transition has not been accepted by Surrey City Council.
In its petition to the courts, the City of Surrey said its plan to dissolve Surrey Police and retain the RCMP would save the municipality $235.4 million over the next five years.
The city said the $150 million offered by the province to continue toward a municipal police force would still leave Surrey with a shortfall of $85.4 million from 2023 to 2027, and that’s not including other “anticipated capital costs” of the transition.
“The estimated cost increase of the city to transition to the (Surrey Police Service) compared with retaining the RCMP is in excess of $464 million over a 10-year period,” the petition said. “The province has offered to fund only $150 million of that amount, leaving an over $314-million unfunded shortfall.”
Farnworth’s order in July for Surrey to continue the transition cited public safety as a concern, noting the RCMP had 1,500 vacancies. He said the government was trying to avoid a crisis in policing as RCMP moved to fill positions in Surrey, while making the staffing situation worse in other detachments in the province.
On Friday, Farnworth reiterated those concerns in his statement.
“People’s safety in Surrey and across the province is non-negotiable,” he said. “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.”
Lawyer and former high-ranking RCMP officer Peter German, who has been hired by Surrey as an adviser in the dispute, said there’s no indication the RCMP hasn’t been providing “extremely effective” police service to the city.
“Surrey RCMP have been providing service to this community since 1950,” German said at a news conference at Surrey City Hall on Friday. “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.
“So to all of a sudden make a transition to a stand-alone department is unprecedented.”
In its petition, the city said Farnworth’s powers to intervene with municipal policing under the Police Act is limited to when a municipality fails to provide a police force of “sufficient numbers” to maintain law and order.
“Those circumstances do not exist in this case,” the petition said.
The petition is asking for the court to quash the provincial government’s decision directing the city to continue the change to the Surrey Police Service, as well as to declare the provincial government is “without lawful authority” to assign which force polices the city when the province hasn’t provided the resources needed to fulfil the responsibility.
The policing debate between Surrey and the province has grown increasingly rancorous since Locke’s election, and the mayor accused Farnworth of bullying and misogyny earlier this year.
Farnworth replied that the city was playing “games” when it didn’t immediately provide details about how it would manage a switch back to the RCMP.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2023.