Justice Minister Shirley Bond has finally said yes to talking about about regional policing for Victoria and Vancouver — a discussion that is long overdue. In releasing the second part of the White Paper on Justice Reform, Bond said: “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.”
The conversation didn’t take place long ago because her government and those that preceded it quaked in their boots whenever anyone suggested confronting so contentious a topic as amalgamating Victoria’s seven municipal forces and RCMP detachments. The need has been clear and the demands have been frequent, but governments always backed away.
Their timorousness is understandable. Any suggestion for integrating police forces in Greater Victoria and Greater Vancouver faces fierce opposition from some police chiefs and mayors, including Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.
We have long maintained, however, that the arguments in favour of police amalgamation justify the government in taking on those opponents. The arguments have been reinforced most recently by Wally Oppal’s report on the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton; Oppal said both Victoria and Vancouver would benefit from regional police forces.
Polls suggest public support for the idea is widespread. One conducted in 2003 for the Times Colonist and CHEK News found 70 per cent support for establishing a regional police force. In 2007, a poll showed 65 per cent support for amalgamation in Greater Vancouver.
Numbers like those could be a factor in Bond’s sudden conversion on the eve of an election.
The New Democrats decried her announcement as nothing more than an election ploy, but that only means the B.C. Liberals have decided there is enough popular support for the idea that it’s worth pursuing. If it takes the fear of electoral defeat to make them pay attention at last, why quibble over motives? Sometimes people do the right thing for selfish reasons.
The NDP itself has no claim to the moral high ground. They didn’t force amalgamation when they were in office, even though then-premier Ujjal Dosanjh backed the idea in the late 1990s. The day after Bond’s announcement, New Democrat public safety critic Kathy Corrigan took much the same line as the justice minister, promising consultation with municipalities and insisting that if regionalization looked like the best option, the party would have the courage to do it.
It’s possible that Bond and Corrigan’s commitment to “conversation” won’t lead to anything more substantial than the past inaction. However, Bond is speaking more forcefully than anyone in her position has for years.
Her words give hope to those who long to see an end to the inefficient and potentially dangerous mess of police forces in the region.
© Copyright 2013