The gloves came off at Monday night’s Surrey council meeting over the city’s policing transition from the RCMP to a city-made police force as a report calling on the police board to manage FOI requests came before council for consideration.
Shameful, folly, hypocritical, flawed…If words can wound, bruises were surely exchanged.
Council approved a corporate report on a five-to-four vote to transfer “applicable work product” from city hall to the Surrey Police Board to make sure records are under the “ownership and control” of the “appropriate” party and requests for access to these records are handled in a “timely and responsive” way. An agreement will now be forwarded to the Surrey Police Board for its approval.
Before the corporate report was approved by the five Safe Surrey Coalition council members, with councillors Linda Annis, Brenda Locke, Jack Hundial and Steven Pettigrew opposed, bitter comments were exchanged between former allies in a debate that ran over half an hour.
At Surrey council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, 2018 it served notice to the provincial and federal governments it is ending its contract with the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up its own force. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth on Aug. 22, 2019 gave the city the go-ahead to pursue the plan.
The Surrey Police Service is expected to have 805 police officers, 325 civilian employees,and 20 community safety personnel who will take on lower priority, less risky, and less complex duties in order to” better leverage” frontline officers, All told, 84 per cent of the officers will be constables. Surrey RCMP, in comparison, has 1,145 employees, 843 of which are police officers.
Locke said the transition was “poorly thought out and rushed from the beginning, even though those involved knew that the VPD plan was inadequate they continued to use it to hide the real costs that will be imposed on future generations and the record management issues are going to be part of that.
“From the beginning of this process it has been poorly, to be frank, and shamefully handled from the embarrassing and childish prop of a police car that still sits in the city works yard gathering dust, to deliberately misleading the media with a release that boasted, by you Mr. Mayor, that on June 23, 2019 that claimed that some 73 per cent of Surrey residents wanted the transition,” she charged, “then according to the City of Surrey public consultation process only to be found out six months later, after two FOIs by councillor Hundial and myself, that was patently false.”
Locke noted that during the second wave of a pandemic, and a budget shortfall, the city is continuing to rush a process “that will cost the city and the residents dearly.
“All at the same time some of this council were known to demand more boots on the ground, this plan will put less officers in Surrey and Surrey will be much less safe, especially when you add the majority on council have voted the past two budgets not to increase the number of police officers need for our city. It is shameful, it has been shameful, and therefore I will not support this or any other issue regarding this folly of a plan unless it is to do a proper third-party feasibility study and a cost-benefit analysis.”
Mayor Doug McCallum thanked her for her comments, and then said this: “Councillor Locke, it is quite interesting for you to say that when in fact you campaigned for three months to change the RCMP, and in fact as soon as you got elected, in the very first meeting, you voted…”
Locke interrupted him in mid-sentence. “You can continually delude the process, the process was flawed, the outcome will be flawed because the process was flawed,” she said.
McCallum continued. “I will say that Councillor Locke was part of this council in a unanimous motion that changed our police force.” Locke replied that there has been a multitude of times throughout the past two year where those decisions have been changed.
“Nobody would make the generational decision that was made on Nov. 5 (2018) without expecting to have at the very least a corporate report, which we did never get, a feasibility study, which we have never done, and a cost benefit analysis. So just because we made a decision didn’t mean that we were going to follow blind-faith with what has happened to date. I will not back down from that,” Locke said.
“It was never an open and transparent process as you know.”
Councillor Linda Annis said she won’t support anything to do with the policing transition. “I don’t believe this is the time we should be doing it. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re rushing this through, in my opinion, without a clear plan,” she said. “It has not been an open and transparent process, and yes, we did vote unanimously on Nov. 5 but we didn’t have the facts. I don’t think any of us thought this would be done behind closed doors, without knowing what it was going to cost and how it was going to make the people of Surrey feel safer. And quite frankly, we just got the stats from the RCMP and crime, violent crime in Surrey, is down and has been for quite some time.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra recalled that in order to run with the Safe Surrey Coalition all candidates had to agree to three campaign promises during the 2018 campaign to support smart development, SkyTrain expansion in Surrey and setting up Surrey’s own police force. She took particular aim at Hundial, saying his former job as an RCMP officer had lent credibility to the SSC’s position.
Hundial noted, if voting patterns are to be continually dredged up, and campaigns, that McCallum in his unsuccessful election bid in 2014 ran on a platform to increase the number of Surrey RCMP officers by 300.
Councillor Steven Pettigrew lashed out at McCallum. “Many times over the last two years I’ve been chastised by you,” Pettigrew said.”You’ve chastised me for calling out people, yet you’re allowing your councillor to do that. You’re being hypocritical. You’re inconsistent in your calling. You’re inconsistent. Where one of us mentions one of their names you immediately shut us down but you allow them to mention our names and say whatever they want. So be consistent – either allow us all to go back and forth, or cut us all off, which one is it?”
Councillor Doug Elford advised his fellow council members to “let democracy run its course” and Councillor Nagra said he will continue to support the policing transition.
McCallum said the policing transition was the “number one” issue the SSC ran on, it was the “will of the public at that time, and is still the will of the public at this time, that they want to see a new police force.
“I’m one to listen to what the public wants,” McCallum said, “and then if elected to do what the public wants, not what we want to do, what they public wants.”
“We will have officers on the ground in the next few months and we will have our first officer very quickly, our police chief. And so that is the will of the people of Surrey. And I for one always fulfill something that I promise. If I’m elected by the citizens I will get it done – I don’t go back on my word.”
“Tonight it hurts me to hear a number of comments around this table that the main issue during the campaign was to change our police force, and the comments now I hear from some of those people that got elected based on that really disturbs me,” McCallum said.
“The future will determine whether in fact the public will, if you run again in the future, will want to vote for someone that actually changes their mind on the very first opportunity after getting elected,” he added.
McCallum reiterated that the transition to a new police force from the RCMP is a “done deal.”
Pettigrew disagreed. “This is nowhere near being a done deal,” he said. “One of my biggest concerns, I’ve said, is that this thing is going to fail and it’s going to fail miserably, and I’m so concerned – I’m concerned about our staff members spending these hundreds of hours and the millions upon millions of dollars that are going to be spent on this.
“There’s so many flaws in this,” he said. “I’m concerned about all the time, and the waste, that’s been spent on this.”
Councillor Allison Patton said the city needs to move forward on the transition. “I do appreciate that we’re trying to be a little bit civilized here tonight although it could be a bit better I think,” she said. “I do realize that change is difficult for a lot of people but I do think we’re coming to a place where we can look ahead, and instead of using words like ‘fail,’ that we try to think of a little bit more positive outlook to the future because we are in a really great city, and we are all really great people and so we we can work together to make this better, to have a better image in terms of how we portray ourselves.”
“I look to a little bit more positivity instead of using the word ‘fail’ all the time, so I appreciate everybody and I just look forward to that at some point, from some of us,” Patton said.
After Patton’s comments, McCallum concluded the debate with, “Okay, we’ll leave it at that.”
The report by Rob Constanzo, the city’s general manager of corporate services and Terry Waterhouse, the city’s general manager of the policing transition, noted that an agreement is needed to address the “ownership, control and use” of the board’s records and to “implement processes for appropriate document management and public disclosure of those records.”
It also noted that while the city has a “well-established” Freedom of Information process and will continue to handle requests related to the City of Surrey’s role in the the transition from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service and records prior to the board being struck, “including the pre-existing board records,” the board going forward will manage requests that “directly concern or relate to board matters, its members and records” that the city developed for the board on or after July 6 this year.
“The Police Board’s Freedom of Information Committee, currently a committee of the whole, will oversee FOI requests and, through the Executive Director, ensure the Board is compliant with FOIPPA,” the staff report reads.