B.C. mayors wouldn’t automatically chair police boards with new changes

B.C. is introducing legislation that would no longer automatically make city mayors the head of police boards in the province.

The province says changes to the Police Act, as part of this first phase, target municipal police governance, oversight, and police superintendence.

Specifically around changes to governance, the province says legislation would allow local governments to decide who will be on their respective police boards, and will also allow members to elect chairs and vice chairs.

As it currently stands, mayors are automatically designated as the local government representative and chair of their community’s police board.

“The legislation will also strengthen oversight of municipal police with several changes, including allowing the police complaint commissioner to call a public hearing earlier in misconduct investigations, and providing the police complaint commissioner authority to conduct systemic reviews and investigations into the causes and contributors of police complaints,” the B.C. government said Thursday.

These changes are in line with recommendations made by a 2022 Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act and from the 2019 Special Committee to Review the Police Complaint Process, the government explains. They also address recommendations requested by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

The province says it will continue to work on other reforms outlined by the reviews. These further changes will include engagement with Indigenous partners, as well as other stakeholders across the province.

“We count on our police to respond in difficult situations to keep us safe and there are ongoing conversations on how to change policing to keep pace with a changing world, particularly for many Black, Indigenous, and other people of minority communities who have had negative experiences with the police,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.

“By focusing on changes to municipal policing, we are setting the foundation for a modern policing system that is fair, equitable and responsive to all communities.”

The changes come after Farnworth introduced last fall legislation to prevent a similar situation to what has been playing out in Surrey over the last few years. The city is currently in the midst of a police transition, with the ultimate goal of removing the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction for the municipal Surrey Police Service.

Mayor Brenda Locke has been adamantly against the transition, put in motion by her predecessor, and has tried several times to prevent it from continuing.

Last summer, Farnworth announced the province was directing Surrey to stick with the SPS, prompting legal challenges from Locke.