'Move forward': Minister's letter presses council to read report, vote on Surrey police

WATCH: B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has sent a strongly-worded letter to Surrey City Council, pressing it to make a decision on the transition from the RCMP to a municipal force. Richard Zussman reports.

There’s been yet another salvo in the war of words over the future of policing in Surrey, as the fate of the RCMP and Surrey Police Service (SPS) both remain in limbo.

The latest development came in the form of a letter Thursday from Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and her council.


In the letter, Farnworth urges the elected officials to sign a confidentiality agreement allowing them to view a full version of the province’s report on the transition — and presses them to quickly make a final decision on whether to keep the RCMP or finish a transition to the SPS.

At the end of April, Farnworth “strongly recommended” the city complete the transition, arguing keeping the RCMP could hurt policing elsewhere in the province, and offering up $150 million to offset costs of keeping the SPS.

A full, confidential version of the report backing that recommendation has been offered to Surrey councillors, but only if they sign a non-disclosure agreement, something Farnworth said about half of council has not done.

“I am gravely concerned that Council may proceed without considering all relevant information available,” reads the letter.

“It is critical that all of Council understands the full factual context of this decision, as well as its implications, to ensure adequate and   effective policing in Surrey.”

The missive appears, however, to have landed with a thud — with Locke telling Global News she’d like a phone call or a meeting with Farnworth.

“We will do this right not rushed, and I will not be intimidated or bullied by a solicitor general that wants us to jump to his timeline,” she said.

“We will do it and we are doing it as absolutely as quickly as we can. We now have the information in front of us, and we will move forward and make that decision as quickly as we can.”

Locke wouldn’t say if she had signed the confidentiality agreement.

But she said she was opposed to the idea of a non-disclosure agreement in principle, because it would keep information on the decision from Surrey voters.

That, according to Farnworth’s letter, is a non-starter.

“(The report) contains confidential information that outlines police operations, information regarding intergovernmental relations, and information on the federal, provincial, and municipal business lines within the RCMP,” the letter states.

“The safeguarding of this sensitive information is paramount to public safety.”

Opposition Surrey Coun. Linda Annis said she had signed the confidentiality agreement, and that while she couldn’t speak to details of the report, all councillors should read it.

“It’s information that I think is critical in the decision making process, and as an elected official it’s absolutely incumbent on each and every one of us to read the report,” she told Global News.

“I think we need to get on and make a decision and make a decision now,” she added. “The mayor is indicating that each and every month we delay it’s costing the taxpayers of Surrey $8 million.”

The transition to the SPS is already well underway, the province said, with more than 400 officers and support staff on the payroll.

The SPS plan to eventually hire 734 officers would cost about $30 million more per year than staying with the RCMP, the province added, while severance costs for SPS officers, if Surrey were to revert back to the RCMP, would cost about $72 million.

The RCMP currently has about 1,500 job vacancies throughout B.C.

While the letter urged Surrey’s elected officials to make a decision quickly, it also did not set out a deadline.

University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford said Locke and Farnworth appear locked in a stalemate.

He said that could leave Farnworth in a position where he needs to either sweeten the pot and offer more money to the city, or “pull out the stick and force them to proceed with the transition.”

“My reading of the Police Act is that cities are supposed to decide in the first instance if they want a muni force or work with the province to use the provincial force which in this case is the RCMP,” he said.

“However, it’s also my reading of the police act that the solicitor general has the authority to decide policing needs for the entire province including large municipalities, so at the end of the day I think he can force Surrey to accept the new police force if he really thinks that’s what’s in the best interest of the province.”

Locke, in the meantime, shows no sign of budging from her position, despite the offer of $150 million on the table — and now in writing.

“We do not need to change the police department. We do need $150 million though for schools, I can tell you for sure. We need $150 million for our health-care system,” she said.

“But I can tell you we’ve made the decision to keep the RCMP. Now if there’s anything in the report from staff, we’ll see what that looks like. But right now we’re still staying firm with our decision.”


© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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