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Surrey Police Board suspended as B.C. moves to force transition from RCMP

Click to play video: 'B.C. public safety minister suspends members of Surrey Police Board'
B.C. public safety minister suspends members of Surrey Police Board
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has suspended the members of the Surrey Police Board and appointed an administrator to continue the city's transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force. Alissa Thibault reports – Nov 16, 2023

British Columbia’s public safety minister and solicitor general put the Surrey Police Board on ice Thursday, in the latest move to force the city to complete its transition to a municipal police force.

Mike Farnworth announced that he had suspended all of the board’s members, and that former Abbotsford police chief Mike Serr has been appointed as administrator to fulfil their functions on the Surrey Police Board.

Click to play video: 'Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announces suspension of Surrey Police Board'
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announces suspension of Surrey Police Board

In October, Farnworth introduced legislation to force the city to complete its transition from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service (SPS), which included provincial powers to appoint an administrator to replace board members and act in their stead.

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Farnworth said the move was necessary due to the lack of progress from the city in moving the police transition forward.

The action also results from the need to address budgeting for the current and coming fiscal years, he said.

“The best way to do that is to put in place an administrator, suspend the board, and that’s why it is being done,” Farnworth said.

“This is not a reflection on the board members who I think have worked incredibly hard and done outstanding work.”

Click to play video: 'Lawyer for City of Surrey says police transition controversy far from over'
Lawyer for City of Surrey says police transition controversy far from over

Farnworth said he had spoken to the board about the decision, along with Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke — with whom he had a “cordial” conversation.

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“It’s no secret that this has been a complex issue, it is the largest policing transition in the history of this province and I think in the country,” he said.

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“They mayor has her views I think on this transition, and I have made it clear that this transition will continue.”

Locke was not available for an interview Thursday, but issued a statement accusing the government of a “provincial police takeover” that eliminated civilian oversight.

“In effect, the Minister has removed checks and balances,” Locke wrote.

“Not only is the Province attempting to force Surrey into an expensive police transition and a double digit tax hike, but now they are taking control of policing away from the duly elected government to force through their expensive, disorganized, and flawed plan.”

Click to play video: 'Premier Eby to Surrey on policing: There’s no more money'
Premier Eby to Surrey on policing: There’s no more money

Surrey Police Chief Norm Lipinski issued a statement on the shakeup thanking the board and welcoming Serr to the administrator role.

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“These board members have done an enormous amount of work to get Surrey Police Service to the point it is at today,” he said.

“I am confident that Mr. Serr will play a critical role in helping to expedite the policing transition with this streamlining of governance decisions for Surrey Police Service.”

The Surrey Police Union issued its own statement to similar effect, adding the move would not affect policing in the city.

“The decision to suspend the Surrey Police Board should not overshadow their commitment and diligence to our members and the residents of Surrey. The Board members have done an outstanding job in shepherding Surrey Police Service through an unprecedented policing transition,” union president Rick Stewart said.

“However, the time has come for this policing transition to be expedited with a more streamlined process that will allow all parties to work towards the completion of the project.”

Click to play video: 'One-on-one with Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke'
One-on-one with Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke

October’s Police Amendment Act capped a long and fraught dispute between the province and the city over the future of the nascent SPS.

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In July, Farnworth ordered Surrey to complete its transition from the Surrey RCMP to a municipal force, saying the city had failed to show moving back to the RCMP would be safe and not affect policing in other B.C. communities.

Locke was elected last year on a promise to scrap the transition, which was initiated under the administration of former mayor Doug McCallum, and has maintained her city has the ultimate authority to keep the RCMP.

Locke currently sits as chair of the Surrey Police Board.

In October, the city filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial review of the province’s order to complete the transition.

According to the city’s petition to the court, the police transition will cost Surrey an additional $464 million more over 10 years than keeping the RCMP.

The province has offered the city $150 million to help defray costs.

As of September, the Surrey Police Board said the SPS had hired 400 sworn and civilian staff, and deployed more than 200 officers.

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