Update: City of Surrey says province’s suspension of police board is unconstitutional

“This takeover of policing by the province will cost Surrey taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and result in a double-digit, NDP imposed tax increase.” — Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke

Surrey’s mayor has ratcheted up the fight with the B.C. NDP government over the future of policing in B.C.’s second most-populous municipality, asking the courts to rule the province’s actions to force through the transition to a municipal police force are unconstitutional.

Brenda Locke announced Monday the city will amend its petition in B.C. Supreme Court — filed last month in an attempt to stop the forced transition from the Surrey RCMP to a municipal force — to challenge the constitutionality of the province’s recent amendments to the Police Act, which allows it to overrule Surrey on policing.

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“Today we are taking a significant step to stop the NDP police service,” Locke told reporters Monday during a news conference. “As a result of the province’s attempted police takeover, which would require a double-digit NDP tax hike on Surrey taxpayers, we are challenging the constitutionally of the province’s latest legislation.”

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Thursday suspended the entire Surrey police board and appointed an administrator, former Abbotsford police chief Mike Serr, to continue the transition to the municipal force.

The Police Act changes also state that Surrey’s police force of record will be the new Surrey Police Service, not Surrey RCMP.

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More broadly, it states that when any municipality begins setting up a new police force, it must follow through with that process to prevent a similar battle in the future.

Speaking to reporters in Victoria Monday, Farnworth said he can’t comment specifically on the legal petition, but “we have every confidence on the constitutionality of the legislation.”

Farnworth was visibly angry when asked about Locke’s “NDP police service” comment, calling it a disgrace.

“There are hundreds of men and women right now on the ground in Surrey who are dedicated police officers,” he said. “And for the mayor of Surrey to denigrate that by trying to take some cheap political shot, I think is disrespectful to those men and women who put their life on the line every single day to protect the citizens of Surrey, whether they’re Surrey Police Service members or the RCMP.”

While the RCMP is still the police force of jurisdiction in Surrey, the Surrey Police Service is staffed by about 400 officers and staff. Farnworth estimates the transition, led by Serr and Jessica McDonald, who was hired in July to oversee the transition, will take another 12 to 18 months.

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Locke said she was elected in 2022 on a platform to stop the plan to ditch the RCMP. Despite voting for a municipal police department as a councillor, Locke said she later learned former mayor Doug McCallum’s estimates on the cost of the transition were unrealistic.

“This government does not have the right to run roughshod on every local government that doesn’t bend to their way,” she said.

Elenore Sturko, B.C. United MLA for Surrey South and a former Surrey RCMP officer, said she’s shocked at the lengths the province is willing to go to wrest control away from a municipality on policing.

“One of the selling points of the SPS was that we were supposed to gain this unique local control that they argued only could come from a municipal police force,” Sturko said. “And we couldn’t be further from local control than we are right now.”

The latest legal salvo from Surrey has not yet been filed in court. The province has not filed its response to the initial lawsuit filed in October.

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