Surrey city council has voted to retain the RCMP as its police of jurisdiction.
In what she called a “return to normalcy” in the city, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke made the announcement during a press conference that became testy Friday morning at city hall.
“Surrey needs a final answer on policing and Surrey council has decided, with a vote held yesterday, to retain the RCMP as our police force of jurisdiction,” she said.
Locke said council made their vote during a “special council agenda” Thursday (June 15) during a closed meeting, which, combined with the non-disclosure agreements signed by council, means the mayor could not disclose who voted and how they voted.
However, public safety minister Mike Farnworth told reporters Friday in Victoria that the NDA covers the material that was redacted in the first report and that it’s up to council to decide if they want to disclose how the vote went.
As such, it is unclear if Coun. Rob Stutt voted during Thursday’s in-camera meeting. On Tuesday, the Surrey Police Union, representing Surrey Police Service officers, called on Stutt to recuse himself from voting on policing in Surrey, a situation that would have potentially jeopardized the Surrey RCMP’s tenure as the city’s police of jurisdiction.
In February, the union filed a complaint with the commissioner alleging conflict-of-interest on Stutt’s part. Its president Rob Stewart issued a statement charging that Stutt voted to end the transition to Surrey Police Service from the Surrey RCMP without disclosing that his son is employed by the Surrey RCMP and his daughter is seconded from the City of Surrey and assigned to the RCMP. Nor did Stutt recuse himself, Steward stated.
After taking a few questions during Friday’s announcement, the mayor’s staff tried to end the press conference but that was met with resistance from one frustrated reporter, who decried a lack of information from the mayor.
Locke then answered several more questions.
When asked about costs to retain RCMP, Locke said those numbers weren’t available but added, “obviously millions.”
Meanwhile, Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis called Thursday’s behind-closed-doors council decision to keep the RCMP “an insult” to the people of Surrey.
“It muzzled councillors and any open opposition,” Annis said. “It makes the decision a personal face-off between the mayor and the province of British Columbia.”
She said the in-camera meeting is not a good look when transparency has been an ongoing issue throughout the transition process.
“Councillors were only told late Wednesday about the in-camera meeting, when we were handed a 400-page city staff report and given only hours to read it,” she said. “No transparency, no community involvement, no agreement between the city and the province on the facts. It was followed by yesterday’s rushed in-camera meeting that muzzled all of us who were there.”
Annis, who campaigned on having a referendum on the divisive issue, said the whole issue was bungled from the start.
“When it comes to policing and the police transition, we did it all wrong, and our taxpayers are on the hook to pay the bill with nothing to show for it.”
The fiscal irresponsibility of this whole mess is going to haunt Surrey for years. Reversing this decision with the amount of money that had already been invested was asinine, even if you think the decision to create an SPD in the first was also wrong.— Gord Randall (@GARandall) June 16, 2023
The Surrey Board of Trade said Locke’s announcement means the city can hopefully move on.
“The Surrey Board of Trade is pleased with the final decision to retain the Surrey RCMP as Surrey’s public safety infrastructure,” said Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman. “Now we must work in a co-operative, professional and respectful way to focus on moving forward and paying proactive attention to other important economic and infrastructure priorities.”
The next steps will be critical for Surrey, she added.
“We will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure the transition back is efficient so that the business community can receive the best public safety service possible.”
With files from Tom Zytaruk