Province can order Surrey to transition policing away from RCMP, B.C. Supreme Court judge rules

A B.C Supreme Court judge has upheld changes to the provincial Police Act that will force the City of Surrey to transition policing from the RCMP to a municipal force.

Justice Kevin Loo dismissed Mayor Brenda Locke’s bid to halt the transition — a key promise of her 2022 municipal election campaign — after nearly two years of feuding with the B.C. government over the future of policing in the province’s second largest and fastest growing municipality.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced the decision Thursday, saying the safety of Surrey residents has been at the centre of the province’s efforts to push forward the transition to the Surrey Police Service (SPS), the municipal force initiated by Locke’s predecessor Doug McCallum.

“People in Surrey want this to be over,” Farnworth said in a statement. “I am hopeful that today’s ruling is the time to come together to complete the transition to the Surrey Police Service.”

‘Very much in our favour’

At the outset of his decision, Loo said he was not giving “an assessment of whether the SPS or the RCMP would do a better or more cost-effective job at policing Surrey.”

Instead, the judge said, he set about determining the validity of changes to the Police Act that literally made it the law for Surrey to have a municipal police force.

The province introduced the changes after the City of Surrey filed a petition with the court for a judicial review of a decision Farnworth made last summer that insisted Surrey continue with the transition despite the will of its city council.

The city argued the public safety minister was thwarting the will of voters who elected Locke on a promise to keep the RCMP.

A statue of a blind goddess holding the scales of justice in a court atrium.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kevin Loo dismissed Surrey’s court challenge to the province’s order to transition from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

But Loo said “the city’s argument that the legislature is not entitled to specifically nullify a mandate given by voters is inconsistent with the province’s general authority over municipalities.”

The judge upheld the changes to the Police Act — meaning arguments over Farnworth’s right to order a transition were moot because the law now mandates Surrey to switch policing to a municipal force.

“It’s pretty clear in terms of the arguments the city brought in this judicial review, and the judge dismissed them,” Farnworth told reporters Thursday.

“It was very much in our favour.”

The city was also asking the judge to declare that the province had a responsibility to provide the increased funding it will take to make the transition, but Loo rejected those arguments as well, saying Surrey had other means to collect any associated cost increases — namely taxes.

In his decision, Loo estimated incremental costs to make the transition at between $30 million and $75 million a year, or between $50 and $120 per Surrey resident.

He said those costs are not the result of “new responsibilities” but rather “merely increased costs in relation to pre-existing responsibilities.”

In the weeks prior to the hearing, Surrey rejected an offer of $250 million from the province to assist with the switch to a municipal police force. At the time, Farnworth said he was “disappointed.”

At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Locke looked downcast but said she would respect the court’s decision.

She pointed to the judge’s comments on the estimated costs of the transition as validation of her council’s concerns about the switch to the SPS and her decision to take the matter to the courts.

“The fact is the court challenge has revealed huge holes in this transition to the SPS,” Locke said.

“That massive cost increase will result in some very difficult choices to be made ahead.”

Locke did not indicate whether she plans to appeal.

The decision drew immediate reaction from former mayor Doug McCallum — the man whose political fortunes appear to have risen and fallen with the apparent fate of a municipal police force.

He called on Locke to resign.

“Mayor Locke’s actions have been nothing short of reckless,” he said in a statement.

“By refusing the province’s $250 million offer to offset tax increases, she has shown a complete disregard for the financial well-being of Surrey’s residents. Her priority has never been the community; it’s always been about her ego.”

In an interview with CBC, McCallum said he is considering another run for mayor.

“Could be,” he said. “I get asked at least 15 to 20 times a day when I’m out.”  

CBC has contacted Locke, Surrey RCMP and SPS for comment.

Locke has scheduled a news conference at Surrey City Hall for 3:30 p.m. PT. 


Posted in CBC