New provincial legislation that could force some holdout municipalities to join specialized regional policing units is troubling and dangerous, according to B.C.’s lone independent MLA.
Vicki Huntington (Delta South) said the change to the Police Act passed by the government last week gives the province “enormous power” to reorganize police services over the objections of local cities.
Some municipal police forces – in Vancouver, Delta and West Vancouver – aren’t part of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) and the province could now compel those cities to join and help fund the service rather than using separate municipal homicide squads.
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the province may also require universal participation in new specialized police teams that are yet to be created, but promised in the Legislature there would be “extensive consultation.”
That wasn’t good enough for Huntington, who tried but failed to amend the legislation to require the consent of municipalities.
Forced participation in regional police units could drive local taxes up, she said, noting Delta estimates it would cost $800,000 to $1 million extra each year to join IHIT.
“If you second an officer to one of these units you’re leaving a vacuum, a hole in the ability of that police force to service its own community,” Huntington said. “So you end up hiring additional police officers and the costs escalate.”
Huntington argued the move amounts to redirecting money raised by local property taxes to services that are provincial priorities, at the expense of local policing.
“I don’t think this type of unrestrained power is appropriate. I’m not saying this government would abuse it, but a government could abuse it.”
The Missing Women Inquiry in 2012 recommended some type of regional police force for Metro Vancouver, replacing the current patchwork of municipal forces and RCMP detachments, but the province’s strategy has so far been to improve and expand specialized teams.
Anton said the legislation could be used to create new teams anywhere in B.C.