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Rob Shaw: RCMP union tells province to respect Surrey council's wish to retain its Mounties force

RCMP is doing a 'fantastic job' and there is no evidence public safety would improve with a municipal force
B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth says the federal government wants out of contract policing, but the RCMP union leader says that's not so. | Government of B.C./Flickr

The head of the RCMP’s union wants the B.C. government to butt out of the Surrey policing dispute, saying the province should respect the city’s wishes to go back to the Mounties and that neither staffing concerns nor concerns about Ottawa’s interest in maintaining contract policing are valid.

Brian Sauvé said in an interview that the flip-flop from Surrey RCMP to Surrey Police Service and now (potentially) back to the RCMP has been confusing and challenging for members.

“The solicitor general just needs to make an acceptance that they've said all along this is a city decision,” said Sauvé, who is president of the National Police Federation, the bargaining agent for RCMP officers.

“We're fine with either way the city decides. They've chosen to maintain the RCMP as their service of choice, we support that 100 per cent, we'll work with them, we'll work with the RCMP to meet their needs. But the province should just respect that decision, and move on.”

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth is currently locked in a war of words with Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke over policing. Locke reversed the previous mayor’s transition to a new municipal police force, moving to reinstate the RCMP in several council votes, the most recent of which was last month. Farnworth has said the province would strongly prefer the city stick with the new Surrey Police Service, and offered up to $150 million to help cover transition costs.

Sauvé took issue with Farnworth’s public concerns about the safety of RCMP policing in Surrey, saying there is no evidence a municipal force would be safer or that the Mounties are failing the city.

“Our members in Surrey are doing a fantastic job, they’ve stayed the course, toed the line, showed up to work, done everything they’ve been asked for, and still, even the rest of our members in the province of B.C. are sitting back and saying, well how much is enough?” asked Sauvé.

“How much proof in the pudding do you need to show that we're doing a fantastic job? Versus you making public statements that you're concerned about how we do our job and putting British Columbians at risk. None of the available data actually supports that. And that's where the confusion comes.”

A report from Farnworth’s ministry raised concerns a transition back to the RCMP could pull officers away from other B.C. detachments. Farnworth has said “binding conditions” against the RCMP pulling officers from other municipalities to restaff in Surrey, warning it would create understaffing problems across the province.

Sauvé said that’s ridiculous for two reasons.

The first, is that the original transition from the RCMP to a municipal force saw Surrey police poach officers from many police detachments, including Vancouver, Delta, Port Moody, New West, Victoria, Oak Bay, transit and the sheriff’s service. The RCMP union warned about the problem at the time, he said.

“The majority of those who are serving and were brought on early to Surrey police service were from other jurisdictions that caused challenges in those other jurisdictions,” said Sauvé.

“I mean, I think 19 (officers) came over from Delta, almost 20 per cent of their workforce. No one heeded our warnings four years ago, but apparently now it’s an issue.”

The second is that the B.C. government could dramatically improve public safety in local communities by funding 240 vacant RCMP positions in those same communities, but chooses not to, said Sauvé.

Premier David Eby did announce in 2022 almost $230 million over three years to fill 277 positions, but that didn’t cover all of the 520 unfunded officers, leaving a gap that persists.

“So we’re saying, hey you know if you want to address public safety concerns — your words not ours — fill the RCMP to the 2012 staffing levels,” said Sauvé.

Top RCMP officials have said publicly they still believe they can restaff Surrey RCMP under new human resources changes that will help bring experienced officers from B.C. back home to fill the Surrey positions without draining other provincial resources.

Farnworth and B.C. officials have also been suggesting the RCMP might be losing interest in contract policing with provinces. Much has centred around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to his public safety minister in which he asks for “an assessment of contract policing in consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous partners and stakeholders.”

Sauvé said he’s taken that line all the way to the Prime Minister’s office for reassurance and the RCMP are not interested in ending contract policing.

“Public Safety Canada, the RCMP, (have) no intention of pulling out,” he said, “What they want to do is they want to hear from users of our services as to how they can make it better.”

An all-party committee of MLAs in B.C. recommended last year the government move to create its own provincial police force, which would be more accountable to the communities it serves. Farnworth has not committed to do so, nor has the NDP government indicated if such a move is in its long-term plan.

Sauvé was visiting B.C. last week speaking to officers about the issues of the day in the force.

He said RCMP members are still concerned about unacceptably long wait times of more than two years for misconduct investigations handled by B.C.’s civilian Independent Investigations Office, though it has improved considerably under chief civilian director Ronald MacDonald.

B.C. and other provinces need to do a better job sharing policing data, because many of the individual provincial computer databases aren’t compatible, he said, leading to confusion and concerns over prolific repeat offenders.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]