Who among Surrey’s Mounties will follow in the footsteps of “Fearless Jimmy?”
Some 843 officers currently working to Maintiens le Droit (Uphold the Right) in this city are now confronted with the same decision James Lloyd Craig had to make more than 68 years ago, except in the reverse.
The towering English immigrant joined the Surrey Police force in 1942, when there was only a handful of officers policing these parts. He was one of the officers to bridge the gap between that force and the RCMP when the national force replaced the local one on May 1, 1951.
Back then, an increasing population required an expansion in policing services and as the result of a plebiscite the Surrey Police was consigned to the history books and the municipality entered into a cost-sharing agreement with the federal government.
Fearless Jimmy, as Craig was nick-named, signed up with the Surrey RCMP in 1951 but ended up retiring two years later rather than be transferred from Cloverdale, which was dear to his heart.
It’s no secret the Surrey of today is divided on the city’s pending divorce with the RCMP, substantially advanced with Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth’s announcement on Aug. 22 giving the go-ahead to the establishment of a made-in-Surrey police force, under the auspices of the provincial government.
While so many details have yet to be hammered out, Farnworth’s decision effectively turned the hourglass on this controversial policing transition plan and now the sand is trickling down to its inevitable realization as opposed to just being a campaign promise awaiting approval.
So far the response from the Surrey RCMP to this latest news has been stoic.
“We have a job to do and everyone here is fully in team mode – we are all committed to doing our work, and we’ve been hearing that over and over from members,” Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko told the Now-Leader on Monday. “Every time a different step in their process comes forward it still has an emotional reaction for members but for us, we still are working every day.
“Especially for our front-line members, we’re not working in a political world, we’re working in the human world where the calls are still coming in and we’re still working to serve the public,” she said. “The process moves on but we have our commitment and as a police officer your commitment is to public safety.
“When we’re doing our work we have to in some ways separate ourselves from what’s happening and just continue to do our job the best that we can,” Sturko said.
“We do have a lot of history here and our members are proud to serve in Surrey so we’re going to keep on doing our job proudly and if a change is taken, happens, then we’re going to do our best to the very end of that process.”
Sturko said “it’s not us versus them. The city has given their notice to the province, the province has said we understand your desire to transition. We don’t have any role in that decision – our role is very clear, and it’s to police. We just have to stay focused and not let whatever processes are taking place to distract us from our priority, and our priority is policing and keeping Surrey safe.”
Farnworth acknowledged it is “essential that adequate and effective policing is maintained throughout the transition and beyond.” Concern over file continuity in investigations has been raised by people like Darlene Bennett, whose husband Paul, 47, was shot dead in the driveway of their Cloverdale home last year.
“I have received no assurances from the mayor that this transition will not jeopardize Paul’s right to justice,” Bennett wrote in a guest column published in the Now-Leader in May.
While this monumental project to part ways with the Surrey RCMP was a cornerstone of Mayor Doug McCallum’s and his Safe Surrey Coalition’s campaign platform – and city council at its inaugural meeting last November served notice to the provincial and federal governments that it will end its contract with the Surrey RCMP – it’s not as though it was conceived overnight.
Though the issue of retiring the RCMP for a made-in Surrey police force had often been raised in previous decades, it grew new legs in April 2003 when McCallum was mayor, after RCMP brass revealed a plan to fold Canada’s largest detachment into a larger policing area that would included Langley and White Rock – a move McCallum considered regressive.
He was livid that the RCMP didn’t consult with the city on that plan, leading to a five-four vote on council to look at setting up a Surrey police force.
“I think they’ve pushed us too far this time,” McCallum said of the RCMP at that time. “On top of that, no consulting.”
But later that year, in July, the RCMP’s amalgamation plan was put on hold for lack of support and by December 2003 council decided to stick with the RCMP.
All said, at this stage of the game, following Farnworth’s announcement last Thursday, it would require nothing short of an act of God for the Surrey RCMP to win a similar reprieve.