SURREY, B.C. — The British Columbia government's "roughshod" treatment of the City of Surrey over the transition of its police force has set off a constitutional challenge after the province suspended the police board, Mayor Brenda Locke said on Monday.
It's a new front in legal action taken by the city after the province said the city must continue its transfer from the RCMP to the independent Surrey Police Service.
Locke announced the city will amend its original B.C. Supreme Court petition to challenge the constitutionality of the provincial government's recent amendments to the Police Act.
There has been a series of back-and-forth manoeuvres between the province and Surrey over the city's fight to retain the RCMP and the provincial government's edict to transition to the independent force.
"This government does not have the right to run roughshod on every local government that doesn't bend to their will," Locke said at a news conference at Surrey City Hall announcing the escalation in the policing dispute.
Locke said she sees an "easy" solution to end the dispute.
"We have fulfilled all our legislative requirements," she said. "It's easy to fix. We keep the RCMP in Surrey, and everybody is happy."
Surrey was in the middle of moving to the independent force when it elected Locke last year on a promise to revert to the RCMP.
Last month, the province ordered that the transition continue and last week, it suspended the police board, including Locke as chair, to accelerate the switch to the Surrey Police Service.
Former Abbotsford police chief Mike Serr has been appointed as administrator of the board and will oversee the transition.
Surrey had asked for a judicial review of amendments made by the government last month to the province's Police Act that — if passed — would ensure that municipalities must complete a police transition once a plan is approved by the provincial government.
The change to the legal documents show the city is also asking the court to quash B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth's appointment of Serr last week.
Farnworth had said the changes to the Police Act would provide "finality" on the future of Surrey's police services, but Locke said the city will do "everything within reason" to stop it.
"When Surrey didn't agree with their costly plans, they hastily ordered us to move forward with a very expensive and disorganized transition," Locke said. "And when we had challenged their authority to do that, they rushed through legislation at a record pace to cover the mistakes that they had made."
Locke said residents could be facing a 20 per cent tax hike to change to a municipal force, adding that the costs would not be a one-time increase but "generational."
She said the province had previously said on several occasions that the decision on Surrey policing was up to the city, and that led Locke to run for mayor.
"Now, they have removed civilian oversight on policing and installed another police officer to carry out this expensive, disorganized transition," said Locke.
"At best, the province misled Surrey taxpayers. This is not a Surrey police service; this is an NDP police service that reports to the solicitor general directly."
Farnworth told reporters in the legislature on Monday that the latest legal challenge is a"delaying tactic."
"I think all it does is cost taxpayer money and it is a waste of money and a waste of time," he said.
The minister accused the mayor of taking a "cheap political shot" at police officers by calling them the NDP police service.
"I think is disrespectful to those men and women who put their life on the line every single day to protect the citizens of Surrey, whether they are Surrey Police Service members or whether they are RCMP."
On Monday, Locke released an email she sent to Farnworth in which she described the appointment of an administrator as "objectionable," saying it was done without any consultation or notice to the city.
"To repeat, the City's number-one priority … is to provide its residents safe and effective policing in accordance with the (Police) Act," Locke said in the letter to Farnworth.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.
Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press