The group behind a petition to force a referendum on Surrey’s policing issue conceded that collecting signatures from 10 per cent of the voting public, across the province, is unrealistic.
As part of the B.C. Recall and Initiative Act, the group has 90 days to collect signatures from at least 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s 87 electoral districts.
If the group were to succeed in gathering the signatures, approximately 315,000 of them, the provincial government would be forced to conduct a regional binding referendum in Surrey on the question of whether the RCMP should be retained.
However, the group won’t be spending time trying to solicit signatures in other parts of the province, Surrey Police Vote campaign strategist Bill Tieleman said at a media event Tuesday.
“We’ll certainly accept signatures from any riding in British Columbia… but we don’t realistically expect people in Prince George or the Kootenays or other areas to be seriously concerned about Surrey and the policing in Surrey,” Tieleman said.
“That’s one of the flaws in the legislation, it doesn’t contemplate a regional referendum on a regional issue.”
Instead of a province-wide effort, Tieleman said they have about 250 registered canvassers so far that will be focusing on Surrey. The goal is to get at least 10 per cent of eligible voters in Surrey, in each district, to sign the document.
“If that happens, we believe the provincial government should be persuaded… to hold a referendum, a binding referendum, in Surrey on the issue of who will be the police service, the RCMP, or the proposed Surrey Police Service,” Tieleman said.
A referendum was a political issue in the 2020 provincial election. The BC Liberals promised a referendum on the issue, while the NDP did not. Ultimately, NDP won a majority of the seats in Surrey.
The petition is spearheaded by Darlene Bennett, the widow of Peace Arch Hospital nurse Paul Bennett, who was mistakenly gunned down in a gang-style shooting in 2018.
At the launch of the petition, Bennett said Surrey hasn’t demonstrated how the proposed Surrey police force will make the city safer, and that the petition is an opportunity to give residents a voice.
She also noted that the city has not added one officer since her husband was gunned down in their driveway in 2018.
“That makes me angry. And you know, this is not going change what happened to Paul. I can speak out and try to make a difference… The people of Surrey deserve to have a voice in this, they deserve to have the facts, and they deserve to make an informed decision,” Bennett said.
Eileen Mohan, whose son Christopher was murdered in the 2007 ‘Surrey Six’ slayings, also spoke to media at the event Tuesday. Mohan said she still has respect for the RCMP, despite the fact that the lead investigator of her son’s murder was convicted of breach of trust and obstruction of justice.
“Yes, you can say there are some bad potatoes that I experienced, and my Christopher’s case experienced. But those bad potatoes have had their days in court and they are out of the force,” Mohan said.
The benefit of the Surrey RCMP, she added, is the organization’s decades of experience policing the city.
“How do you take all the goodness away from all of that and give it to someone, some other organization, that has no experience at all of the programs Surrey has and the respect the residents of Surrey have for the RCMP members at large,” Mohan said.
“This is not about the new structure versus the old structure. It is about retaining the goodness we have within Surrey.”
Community signing events are scheduled this Saturday at Holland Park and Sunday at Goldstone 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.
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.