Some of the 46 officers – excluding those who have or will do covert police work – were sworn-in to the Surrey Police Service on July 16. (SPS photo)

Some of the 46 officers – excluding those who have or will do covert police work – were sworn-in to the Surrey Police Service on July 16. (SPS photo)

Policing transition

Provincewide petition for Surrey police referendum gets underway

Group has 90 days to collect signatures from 10 per cent of eligible voters in B.C.

The group behind a campaign to force a binding referendum on the Surrey policing issue has been approved to start the provincewide effort.

Darlene Bennett, the widow of Peace Arch Hospital nurse Paul Bennett who was mistakenly gunned down in a gang-style shooting in 2018, received on Monday the documents necessary to canvass B.C. residents for their signatures.

Bennett and her team have 90 days to collect signatures from at least 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s 87 electoral districts. In total, the group will need about 315,000 signatures, about 283,800 of those signatures will have to come from voters who live outside of Surrey. To reach the number of signatures required prior to Nov. 15, the group must average at least 3,500 signatures per day.

SEE ALSO: Elections BC approves petition application for referendum on Surrey policing transition

Should the petition prove successful, the provincial government will conduct a regional binding referendum in Surrey on the question of whether the RCMP should be retained as the police service or whether a proposed Surrey Police Service should replace the RCMP.

Campaign manager Brock Stephenson said they have enlisted the help of more than 300 canvassers, and that number is growing by about a dozen every week.

“We’re very happy by the response,” Stephenson said.

Roughly 80 per cent of the canvassers are Surrey residents, although there are a few scattered through the Lower Mainland and a few on the Island.

“We’re strongly represented in Surrey, which makes sense because that’s where the issue is affecting local taxpayers,” Stephenson said.

One of the biggest challenges the group is expected to face is to convince people living hundreds of kilometres away, such as Prince Rupert, to care about a municipal policing issue in Surrey. This comes at a time when other significant issues are competing for British Columbians attention, including a federal election, pandemic, and devastating wildfires.

SEE ALSO: Surrey Police Board says council can’t ‘unilaterally’ pause or stop transition

“People elsewhere in the province I think should be concerned that their municipal governments respect local democracy and respect taxpayers,” Stephenson told the Now-Leader. “I think the problem Surrey had is many people that voted for the mayor and his party in the municipal election may not have voted for spending large amounts of money on a new police department and handing over control to a police board.”

Stephenson said the first goal of the organization is to get as many signatures as they can from the nine electoral districts in Surrey and “build from there.”

On Tuesday, (Aug. 17), the group is hosting an official campaign kickoff signing event from 12-1:30 p.m. at Hjorth Road Park.

Another community signing event is scheduled this Saturday at Holland Park and Sunday at Godwin Park. Both events are to run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In addition to signing events, the campaign will be sending canvassers door-to-door.

“We’re splitting Surrey up, more or less, block-by-block, and sending canvassers to knock on doors and get signature’s on people’s doorsteps in their district,” Stephenson said.

There are no registered opponents or any currently registered initiative advertising sponsors for the petition. Individuals or organizations who intend to conduct initiative advertising must register with Elections BC as an advertising sponsor.

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