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B.C. government sets November date for Surrey police handover

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's government has set Nov. 29 as the date when the Surrey Police Service will take over from the RCMP as the city's force of jurisdiction.
A Surrey Police crest is seen on the side of one of the force's vehicles in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. The province has set the date of Nov. 29 for the official transition of Surrey Police Service taking over as the city's policing force of jurisdiction from the local RCMP detachment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's government has set Nov. 29 as the date when the Surrey Police Service will take over from the RCMP as the city's force of jurisdiction.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the date is a "major milestone" in Surrey's multi-year police transition saga, which he said would take another two to 2 1/2 years to complete.

He said the province would issue a letter to the city in the coming weeks officially informing it of the termination of the agreement that made the RCMP its official police.

Farnworth said Surrey's RCMP detachment will continue to operate and provide support after the official transfer, just as the municipal force is currently supporting Mounties' operations.

"The reality is this: Up until (transition of) police of jurisdiction, Surrey Police Service has been providing the supports to the RCMP," Farnworth said. "After that (transition) date, then the RCMP will provide the supports to the Surrey Police Service.

"And they will determine what those supports are that are required, and then they will be provided."

The fate of policing in Surrey has pitted the provincial government against the local government, after Mayor Brenda Locke was elected in 2022 on a promise to retain the RCMP and reverse the switch to an independent police force.

Earlier this month, Locke and Surrey's city council rejected a provincial offer for another $100 million on top of the $150 million originally tabled for added costs for the independent police service, prompting Farnworth to say the province would move ahead with the transition regardless.

Surrey's city council has said a shift to an independent police force would result in half a billion dollars in added costs over the next decade.

Locke said in a statement on Tuesday that aside from the government's setting the "aspiration date" for the turn over, nothing else had changed. 

"The reality is that despite several public gestures of transition progress over the last five years, substantial plans for this transition have never been completed," she said. 

"Today is simply another desperate attempt by the province to demonstrate some kind of progress on this issue, mere days before the matter is heard in court."

Surrey is challenging the provincial transition order in the B.C. Supreme Court, saying the change in the Police Act places limits on voters’ freedom of expression. 

The B.C. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments over the petition beginning Monday. 

Farnworth said the results of the litigation would not affect the transition.

"We are confident in our position," Farnworth said. "And if it were to go the other way, it would bring it back to what is the law of the province today, and the law of the province today is Surrey will be policed by the Surrey Police Service."

Norm Lipinski, chief constable of the Surrey Police Service, said he and his team had been preparing for the official transition for more than three years, a "long road" that had been challenging to everyone involved.

Lipinski said the force currently has 428 staff including 367 sworn officers, and hiring "will ramp up" in light of the transition date announcement.

"The amount of work that's gone into building Surrey Police Service is nothing short of exceptional," he said. "But I know we have an incredible, busy seven months ahead of us. We are excited and honoured to be doing this work so we can finish building an outstanding municipal police service that is tailor-made for Surrey."

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald said the transition process has not been easy for Mounties, but he is proud of their work and continued dedication to public safety despite the uncertainty surrounding the switch.

"We have spoken with each of them," McDonald said of Surrey detachment members. "We've met with them. We have explained to them that retention is our top priority.

"This transition period is still going to continue for some time, and the No. 1 goal is to continue to provide public safety and police services to the city of Surrey in a blended model, as we have done for several years."

Farnworth said there was an existing agreement to maintain 834 officers in Surrey between the RCMP and the municipal force, and the Mounties would redeploy as the Surrey Police Service hired more officers.

He said the province wanted a "collaborative approach" that did not require one force giving up authority to the other.

Farnworth added the transition was taking place under existing provincial and federal procedures and did not require any rule changes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2024.

Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press