Elections BC approves petition towards referendum vote on Surrey policing choice

SURREY, B.C. — Elections BC has approved a petition launched by the widow of a murder victim that could set off a binding referendum over policing in Surrey, B.C.

Darlene Bennett, with the group Surrey Police Vote, launched the campaign over concerns about rising costs associated with starting up a new municipal police force that will replace the RCMP.

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"The people deserve the facts and deserve to have a voice in this," she said in an interview on Thursday. "And I don't see that happening."

In order for the petition to succeed, setting off the provincial referendum, signatures from at least 10 per cent of the registered voters in each of British Columbia’s 87 electoral districts must be collected within 90 days of the petition's start.

The group will focus on gaining signatures in Surrey's nine electoral districts, which it hopes will demonstrate to the provincial government the need for a regional referendum instead, Bennett said.

Under the province's Referendum Act, a regional referendum could be called limiting the referendum to a specific area, much like the 2015 plebiscite held on creating a transit tax in Metro Vancouver.

Bennett's husband Paul was shot and killed in front of their Surrey home in 2018 in what police believe was a case of mistaken identity.

She said she fears a change in police force will affect the investigation into his death.

"My worry has always been that with such a major change, things are going to fall through the cracks," she said. "Paul deserves justice one day and my family deserves answers and I want to make sure that's protected."

A major plank in Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum's election campaign in 2018 was the promise to create a municipal police force.

He was elected with 43 per cent of the vote.

Surrey's budget for 2021 shows the transition to a local police force is $18.5 million over the original $45-million estimate.

McCallum said in an emailed statement the push for a provincial referendum is "extremely dangerous" and could damage the city's democratic process.

"Our residents are clearly in support of this transition, and we are pressing forward every day, moving closer to fully operating the Surrey Police Service," he said.

He said the petition won't slow down the force's development,and he's confident Surrey police constables would be working by the end of the year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2021.

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