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Surrey widow launches campaign to force referendum on plan to scrap Surrey RCMP

Click to play video: 'Widow of murder victim launches petition calling for Surrey policing referendum' Widow of murder victim launches petition calling for Surrey policing referendum
The widow of a man who was killed in a case of mistaken identity has launched a petition calling for a referendum on the future of policing in Surrey. Catherine Urquhart reports – Jun 17, 2021

A Surrey woman whose husband was an innocent victim of the Lower Mainland gang conflict is leading a campaign to force a referendum on whether her city should keep the RCMP as its police force.

Darlene Bennett’s husband Paul was gunned down in front of their home on June 23, 2018 in what police say was a case of mistaken identity.

Click to play video: 'Petition calls for referendum on Surrey policing change' Petition calls for referendum on Surrey policing change
Petition calls for referendum on Surrey policing change – Jun 18, 2021

“Wednesday marks three years since Paul’s murder. My kids — where have the politicians been to help them?” Bennett told Global News.

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Read more: Widow of Surrey murder victim doesn’t think new police force will make city safer

“I just worry that things are going to fall through the cracks and things are going to get lost. I just want to have justice and my family deserves answers. That’s very important to me.”

She is now using the province’s Recall and Initiative Act, the same law that forced the province to hold a vote on the controversial HST, to try and make the province hold a binding vote on whether or not Surrey should transition to its own municipal police force.

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Surrey Police Force unveils official crest – May 4, 2021

Bennett said the cost of the transition and the lack of public input into the process were motivating factors in seeking an input.

“I just don’t see the benefits of paying for all of this and having so much change, when that money could be spent into programs that could make a difference,” she said.

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Read more: Surrey’s new police chief to make a base salary of $285,000

“Get the facts, have a voice, be heard, and make a difference. Just be an informed consumer. This is affecting the people of Surrey, they’re paying for it, this is their policing. They should have the right to have a voice in this.”

Surrey’s fiscal plan included a $184 million 2021 operating budget for Surrey Police Service — which isn’t expected to be fully operational until 2022 — and estimated the one-time capital cost of the transition had risen by 40 per cent to $63.7 million.

Switching from the Surrey RCMP to a new municipal force was a key 2018 election pledge from Mayor Doug McCallum and his governing Safe Surrey Coalition, but the transition has proved controversial ever since.

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Surrey’s new top cop promises boots on the ground sometime in 2021 – Feb 22, 2021

A 2020 poll found a majority of Surrey residents opposed the move.

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“This is just a waste of money, as far as the taxpayers, to do this referendum,” McCallum said Thursday, adding that Surrey residents have already voted on the issue.

“Our citizens voted us in (with it) as our number one issue,” he said. “That in itself is the biggest referendum, that they voted us on in that.”

Read more: Just 14% of Surrey RCMP members plan to sign up with new municipal force: survey

Bennett said she has received support from residents and businesses, along with the National Police Federation — the organization representing RCMP officers.

She has also recruited political strategist Bill Tieleman, who was a part of the team behind the successful referendum to scrap the HST.

Turning the referendum from a proposal to a reality, however, will be a major challenge for campaigners.

Under the Recall and Initiative Act, proponents have just 90 days to collect signatures supporting the vote from a minimum 10 per cent of all registered voters in every single one of B.C.’s 87 provincial ridings.

The signature collection period will run from Aug. 16 to Nov. 15.

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