Months of sabre-rattling rhetoric between Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth over the city’s incendiary policing transition amplified into political cannon fire this week after Locke announced on Monday the city is challenging in court the ‘constitutionality’ of the provincial government’s decision to replace the Surrey RCMP with the Surrey Police Service.
An amended petition to the one Surrey filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 13 was filed Nov. 20 and Locke characterized this move as a “significant step to stop the NDP police service” as a result of the provincial government’s “attempted police takeover, which would require double digit – double digit – NDP tax hike on Surrey taxpayers.
“We are challenging the constitutionality of the province’s latest legislation,” Locke said. “Surrey voters deserve to have their voices heard.”
“We have to fight for what’s right,” she said.
“This is not a municipal police force that we’re looking at right now,” Locke said of the SPS. “This is a provincial imposition on the citizens and the residents and the taxpayer of Surrey. That’s not what the voters asked for.”
Farnworth dismissed Locke’s latest move as “just an example of delaying tactics by the mayor and I think all it does is cost taxpayers money and it is a waste of money and a waste of time.”
“We have every confidence in the constitutionality of the legislation,” he said Nov. 20. “The decision has been made, the future of policing in Surrey is the Surrey Police Service.”
This latest petition is aimed at the provincial government amending the Police Act last month to specify that Surrey must provide policing services through a municipal police department gave the solicitor general authority to cancel the existing agreement between the provincial government and the City of Surrey for the provision of RCMP services.
“This is absolutely a tragedy,” Locke said. “And I think citizens in Surrey absolutely deserve better. I hear from them every day, they’re concerned about affordability and this is a significant impact on affordability.”
Farnworth said at the time that the legislation also provides, “if necessary,” the provincial government with the ability to appoint an administrator to “assume the functions” of the Surrey Police Board to oversee the SPS.
Locke all but declared political war on the NDP government Monday. “The question before the courts is whether the province has the constitutional right to do what it is attempting to do to Surrey and Surrey taxpayers with this legislation,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I’m digging in my heels, but what I would say is I will fight for Surrey taxpayers every single day and we know that the costs are incredible.”
Farnworth waged political war back, slamming Locke’s reference to the NDP tax on Surrey and the NDP police service as a “cheap political shot.”
“You know there are hundreds of men and women right now, on the ground in Surrey, who are dedicated police officers 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,” Farnworth remarked, “whether they’re Surrey Police Service members or whether they’re RCMP. I just think it’s incredibly disrespectful.”
“For the mayor to say that you know, oh, it’s an NDP police service, quite frankly, I think it’s a disgrace.”
Locke was taken aback.
“For the solicitor general to use the sacrifice of police officers over a political dispute was highly, highly unusual and I would say inappropriate,” she said. “If the NDP don’t want to be associated with an unaffordable, disorganized police force which is what they have lined up then they can fix that.”
Prior to the legislation being amended, Locke noted, the Police Act said local governments get to choose their police department. “That was the Act previously, that is what they’ve changed specific to Surrey and that is a massive concern to me.”
The mayor said she was elected to “fight” for Surrey residents “every day,” and promised that’s what she’ll do. Locke said this conflict is about affordability in Surrey and dodging a double-digit tax increase for its residents. She said she’s concerned for families, seniors, “ordinary citizens and everybody that is going to be dramatically, dramatically impacted by this NDP tax on Surrey.”
“This government does not have the right to run roughshod over every local government that doesn’t bend to their will,” Locke said. “When Surrey didn’t agree with their costly plans they hastily ordered us to move forward with a very expensive and disorganized transition and when we had challenged their authority to do that, they rushed through legislation at a record pace to cover up the mistakes that they had made.”
Locke noted that prior to the 2022 city election the provincial government “said choosing a police was the city’s decision, so my team and I ran on a platform that was clear – we would stop the police transition and keep the RCMP in Surrey.”
She added that after the election, the provincial government said the City of Surrey “had the option to put forward a plan to keep the RCMP. It is now clear that the province had other plans in mind.”
On Oct. 13, the City of Surrey filed its first petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia seeking a judicial review of Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth’s July 19 order to proceed with the SPS, as the mayor continues to stands firm in the majority of council’s intention to stick with the RCMP as Surrey’s police of jurisdiction.
The provincial government has yet to file a response to Surrey’s petition with the court registry and “for reasons that are privileged” cannot provide an estimated date. Respondents served in Canada are typically given 21 days to respond.
“As far as I know there hasn’t been a response filed and I will be meeting with lawyers about that very soon,” Locke told the Now-Leader.
Farnworth on Nov. 16 temporarily suspended the Surrey Police Board – of which Locke was chairwoman – and appointed retired Abbotsford police chief Mike Serr as its replacement administrator.
Locke sees Farnworth’s move to put the “completely dysfunctional” SPB on ice and appoint an administer in its stead as a decision on his part that Surrey doesn’t need civilian oversight.
“The minister has decided that Surrey doesn’t need civilian oversight at the police board and so he suspended the entire police board,” she told the Now-Leader. “I think there’s no question, if anyone looks back at the open part of the police board meetings, this police board was completely dysfunctional. The province knew that, the former director of police services knew that, they have apologized to me for the behaviour of the board.”
Farnworth appointed Serr under Section 8 of the Police Amendment Act, he said, “after careful consideration of the work by the Surrey Police Board, which has been limited due to the lack of progress from the City of Surrey in advancing the police model transition to the SPS.”
Locke said she doesn’t know how much Serr is being paid. “I heard it was $225 an hour.”
She said the city of Surrey still hasn’t seen a plan from the provincial government on how the transition will move ahead.
“We’ve said ‘what is your plan?’ and they somehow think we should provide that plan and I’ve said to them we have a plan, and that’s to keep the RCMP in Surrey, we gave you that plan, but we haven’t seen their plan.”
“Now they have removed civilian oversight and installed another police officer to carry out this expensive, disorganized transition. At best the province misled Surrey taxpayers,” Locke added. “This is not a Surrey Police Service, this is an NDP Police Service that reports to the solicitor general directly. My team and I have been clear – we oppose this transition and will do everything within reason to stop it.
“There is no civilian oversight, so how are we to say this is our police force? Of course this is the NDP police force, it’s the one appointed by the minister.”
According to a City of Surrey press release, “Over the next decade, the province’s police transition is estimated to cost at least $464 million with no additional public safety benefit to the residents of Surrey.”
Farnworth said Serr will submit a budget to Surrey by Nov. 30 and if the city says it’s not happy with the budget, “that goes to the director of police services for them to make a decision, recommendations or changes or what have you. That’s been in existence in the Police Act for a long time and has been used from time to time.”