Surrey Board of Trade backs police transition referendum

Business group cites increasing costs and poor planning as reasons to maintain RCMP force

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said she supports the democratic referendum called for by the Surrey Police Vote campaign | Photo: Graeme Wood

The Surrey Board of Trade announced Thursday it is supporting a campaign calling on the provincial government to call a local referendum on the ongoing municipal police transition.

“The Surrey Board of Trade position is to maintain RCMP services for Surrey’s public safety infrastructure,” said board CEO Anita Huberman, citing costs and a transition plan that has largely remained behind closed doors.

“Public safety matters to business – and so does the most effective use of public funds. The proposed Surrey Police Service does not have a transition plan which fully considers costing, labour, training and public feedback – all a necessity in considering such a fundamental shift away from the Surrey RCMP. 

“For that reason, I support the democratic referendum called for by the Surrey Police Vote campaign, so that Surrey voters can decide whether to retain the RCMP or move to the SPS after considering all the costs and issues,” stated Huberman, via a statement provided to media by campaign manager Brock Stephenson.

The citizens’ initiative is an Elections BC-certified referendum campaign organized by concerned citizens, as well as the RCMP union, the National Police Federation.

Surrey resident Darlene Bennett has become the face of the campaign. Bennett is specifically concerned the transition will imperil investigations, such as that of the murder of her husband, an innocent bystander and victim to mistaken identity.

“His case is still active and ongoing. I want to make sure that this transition does not compromise his right to justice. All the families affected by violent crime in this City deserve to have transparency and accountability from the Mayor and Council,” states Bennett on the campaign’s website.

Legally, the initiative is supposed to garner 10% of eligible voters to force the provincial government into ordering a binding local referendum, however the campaigners are only focusing on Surrey residents in hopes of presenting an informal yet strong message to Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, who is overseeing the ongoing transition.

A civic election is scheduled in October 2022 and opponents of transition proponent Mayor Doug McCallum are backing the referendum.

To date, the Surrey Police Service has hired 110 officers and intends to deploy some on streets by December.

The transition’s last projected budget was for $63.8 million. This is for the likes of legal work, communications, recruitment and training and information technology systems.

Operating expenses, such as new officer salaries, were supposed to be offset by cuts to the RCMP budget in 2021, however those cuts will no longer occur.

As such, the 110 officers who are not deployed but nevertheless on payroll are in addition to the full Surrey RCMP deployment.

The board presented scant budget details at September’s meeting, with no projected operating costs to the end of the year.

The campaign has been mired in conflict, as City of Surrey bylaw officers have been issuing tickets to canvassers who display advertising on public property. In September, McCallum alleged an RCMP supporter ran over his foot in a parking lot where canvassing had been occurring. Mounties are investigating the claim with a special independent prosecutor assigned to the case.