B.C. needs to have a long overdue chat about regional policing in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria, says Justice Minister Shirley Bond.
Bond said her government will research the facts, figures and costs associated with regional police forces over the next year, as part of the White Paper on Justice Reform Part Two released Tuesday.
“For far too long, there’s been talk about regionalization of policing and very little homework, very little detail, very little analysis of the pros and cons of that model,” Bond told reporters.
“What I’ve decided to do is to have the conversation that probably should have taken place long ago. From my perspective, we need to look at whether more integration is the answer or whether, indeed, it is time to contemplate a regional police force.
“I will not do that unilaterally. I think there are very strongly held views, but we need to have a meaningful discussion about that.”
The Opposition NDP scoffed at the announcement, made on the eve of the May 14 provincial election.
The Liberals have had more than 11 years in government to research the issue, but have instead avoided taking a stand, said NDP justice critic Leonard Krog.
“Basically, what you have here is a floated campaign balloon,” he said.
“It gives them an out, and gives the appearance of industrious interest when none existed prior to the campaign.”
Metro Vancouver and the capital region are policed by numerous municipal departments and RCMP detachments.
The government’s second white paper considered conclusions by missing-women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal, who said in December that regional police departments would likely have caught serial killer Robert Pickton much earlier.
“This is a commendable step forward for the government,” said Oak Bay mayor Nils Jensen.
“It is time that all communities start looking for a more sustainable way to deliver protective services.”
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins also supported taking a closer look at regional policing.
“The government has to act on the reports that have come forward such as the Missing Women Commission,” Desjardins said.
“It’s certainly never too late to start going down that road, taking a look and having a lot of dialogue.”
Regionalization may be too big a step to take at one time, but there are many ways of better using integrated police services, Desjardins said. “I think it’s good. Let’s make it happen. Let’s do it in a timely fashion,” she said.
Although it’s a good sign the government is looking at the issue, it needs to be done by an independent group or else its research will lack credibility, said Rob Gordon, director of the school of criminology at Simon Fraser University.
“It really is a pity that government doesn’t take its role as a producer of sound social policy more seriously, instead of trotting stuff out strategically at important times for government, obviously weighted with an eye to being re-elected,” Gordon said.
The white paper, entitled A Timely, Balanced Justice System, also reiterated a past promise to open a new Justice Access Centre at the Victoria courthouse, which will focus on family law and civil court issues.
The paper presents 33 “commitments” to address public safety and access to justice, including supporting the Legal Services Society to expand criminal and family legal aid service, shifting traffic ticket disputes out of court to an administrative tribunal and expanding restorative justice approaches to crime through community programs.
The Justice Ministry said it will also determine whether missing persons’ legislation should be enacted, as well as create standards and protocols for missing persons and other complex investigations to ensure co-operation and co-ordination among police agencies.
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