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Surrey councillor claims rec centres being kept closed to fund police transition

War of words over Surrey’s municipal police force heats up again
War of words over Surrey's municipal police force heats up again

The status of Surrey’s recreation centres has become the latest battleground in the war of words over the Surrey police transition.

Coun. Linda Annis, a vocal critic of the police transition, is accusing the city of keeping the facilities closed indefinitely in order to keep money available for the switch from the Surrey RCMP to a municipal police force.

Surrey’s rec centres have been closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is also facing a $42 million deficit, also driven by the effect of the virus.

Read more: Long-awaited Surrey Policing Transition Report released

“Part of the strategy (to eliminate the deficit) was to keep these buildings closed,” said Annis Saturday.

“The one thing that has not been paused is our police transition. We have $129.6 million allocated for that and it’s full steam ahead at the expense of opening these rec centres.”

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Annis said children and seniors have been cooped up for months, and need access to the facilities to begin decompressing.

Read more: Surrey, Delta and Port Coquitlam close rec centres, ice rinks, pools and libraries over coronavirus

“Many of the municipalities are opening their recreation centres and we should be doing the same. Surrey is the home to many many young families, they rely on these,” she said.

“Right now, Dr. Bonnie Henry is saying it’s okay to open public facilities practicing social distancing provided you have a plan in place.”

Surrey mayor provides update on city closures during coronavirus outbreak
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Coun. Laurie Guerra, chair of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Committee, called the allegation the rec centre closure is linked to the police transition “absolute nonsense.”

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Guerra suggested that the facilities couldn’t open until the city gets the “go-ahead from the provincial health officer.”

However, she acknowledged there was no order from Dr. Bonnie Henry preventing recreation facilities from reopening.

“The reopenings are approved based on the ability to support B.C.’s restart plan and satisfy the council-approved criteria,” she clarified.

“They’ll remain closed as long as safety is the primary thing that we have to look at.”

Guerra wouldn’t commit to a timeline to reopen the facilities, but said said staff were working hard on a number of complexities around safely resuming service.

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“We have a number of residents that are emailing wanting us to open facilities, others are emailing saying no, please don’t open facilities,” she said.

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Read more: The fight to save patients from the coronavirus at Surrey Memorial Hospital

“The city is on top of it, and we will do whatever is safe and still fulfill the requirements form the provincial health office.”

Surrey has begun to reopen outdoor pools, but is not alone in keeping its recreation centres closed.

While some municipalities have begun to reopen the facilities, others, like community and fitness centres in the City of Vancouver, remain shut.