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'It's over': Minister says B.C.'s decision on Surrey police transition upheld in court


The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled in the provincial government's favour on the City of Surrey's legal challenge to its ongoing transition to a municipal police force.

At a hastily arranged news conference Thursday morning, B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said he hopes the city will now work with the province to continue the transition from the Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service.

"What we really want now is the City of Surrey to realize that the decision by the court has been made, that the transition to the Surrey Police Service will continue," the minister said.

"We'd really like them to be at the table to work with the province, the RCMP and the Surrey Police Service to ensure that this transition completes quickly and smoothly."

The SPS is scheduled to become the police of jurisdiction in the city in late November under current transition plans.

Farnworth reiterated that timeline on Thursday, but acknowledged that he had not spoken to Mayor Brenda Locke in the "couple of hours" since Justice Kevin Loo issued his decision.

The minister said he had no knowledge of Surrey's plans regarding a potential appeal, but repeatedly asserted that the transition will continue, regardless of the city's position.

"The people of Surrey want this over," Farnworth said. "This decision certainly indicates that, you know what? It's over. The transition will continue to the Surrey Police Service."

At her own news conference in the afternoon, Locke said the city and its legal team are reviewing Loo's decision and a decision on whether to appeal has not been made.

Locke opened her remarks by saying she respects the judge's decision, even though it didn't go the way she wanted.

Financial burden the key concern

The mayor's statements focused almost exclusively on the additional costs that transitioning to the SPS will entail, which she described as "confirmed" by the court.

"It is clear that it will be more expensive for the city to transition to the SPS compared to maintaining the RCMP, both by way of transition costs and incremental annual costs," Locke said, quoting from Loo's decision.

She went on to reference a report commissioned by the province and conducted by accounting firm Deloitte that put the cost of staffing the SPS with 900 officers at $75 million more than the cost of staffing the Surrey RCMP, which currently has 734 officers. 

Locke described this report as a "bombshell" when it was made public as part of the court case last month.

At the time, Farnworth called the mayor's remarks "absolutely disingenuous," noting that the Surrey RCMP has an authorized staffing of 843, and staffing that many SPS officers – which he said is the plan – would cost roughly $30 million more per year, not $75 million.

"All of this information only came to light as a result of the city's court challenge," Locke said Thursday.

"The fact is, the court challenge has revealed huge holes in this transition to the SPS, on multiple levels," she added. "The true cost will have an extremely, extremely onerous impact on the City of Surrey and especially on the Surrey taxpayers."

For its part, Loo's decision does not weigh in on whether Locke's $75 million or Farnworth's $30 million figure for ongoing costs is correct.

Rather, the judge accepted that there will be higher ongoing costs associated with the transition, but declined to order the provincial government to cover those costs, as the city sought in its legal challenge.

"The city does not furnish any specific evidence regarding its ability to make provision for the transition costs," the decision reads.

"It might be noted that the incremental costs of $30 million to $75 million per year constitute about $50 to $120 per Surrey resident. Those incremental costs also constitute between two per cent to five per cent of the city’s budget."

Locke said she and the rest of city council have "lots of decisions to make" about how to accommodate the increased cost of policing going forward.

Former mayor weighs in

Transitioning from the RCMP to a municipal force was a key promise of former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum back in 2018. The province approved the transition in 2020 and the SPS was created, but many Surrey residents objected to the plan.

Locke was elected in 2022 on a promise to stop the transition and keep the Surrey RCMP.

While Locke and her allies on Surrey City Council voted to scrap the transition shortly after they took office, Farnworth's ministry determined that public safety in the city would be better served by continuing the transition, and ordered it to continue.

Thursday's ruling dismissed the city's petition for judicial review of the province's decision and subsequent legislation on the matter.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, McCallum slammed his successor for continuing to fight the transition when the provincial government was offering the city $150 million to help offset the increased costs.

"Brenda Locke has proven she doesn’t care about Surrey," the former mayor said.

"Her decision to continue this losing battle, despite clear support and financial backing from the province, is a slap in the face to every resident struggling with high taxes and financial uncertainty during a cost of living crisis. It’s time for her to step down."

Judge's reasons for dismissing case

The city's petition for judicial review was two-pronged. First, it argued that Farnworth's July 2023 decision requiring the city to continue the transition to the SPS either exceeded Farnworth's authority or was unreasonable, and second, it argued that the provincial government's Police Amendment Act (PAA) – which was passed in October and included provisions specifically obligating Surrey to continue the transition – was unconstitutional.

Loo considered the constitutionality question first, reasoning that if the law was upheld, its provisions mandating the transition to the SPS would supersede any legal issues with Farnworth's initial July decision.

The city argued that the PAA violated Surrey voters' right to freedom of expression by rendering it impossible for Locke to deliver on the mandate voters gave her to keep the Surrey RCMP.

While Loo noted that he found some of the city's arguments "individually compelling," he was unable to adopt its overall perspective, which the judge found would have greatly expanded the scope of protections for freedom of expression, compared to existing case law.

"Municipalities can exercise only those powers which are conferred upon them by a provincial statute, and those same powers can be altered or removed by legislation," Loo's decision reads.

"Expanding the ambit of (the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) to provide municipal voters with a constitutional right not to have an electoral mandate overridden by provincial legislation would run contrary to well-established jurisprudence regarding provincial authority over the affairs of municipalities."

Having concluded that the PAA was constitutional, Loo found it was unnecessary for him to weigh in on Farnworth's July decision, and decided not to do so. Top Stories

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