Police Act amendment too little too late for Surrey policing mess

Oct 18, 2023 | 42-4, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

The Police Amendment Act, 2023 is the BC NDP response to the policing mess that has been unfolding in Surrey for the past few years. This situation was entirely avoidable if the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Hon. Mike Farnworth, had intervened but he didn’t and now both the citizens of Surrey and British Columbia are spending hundreds of millions of dollars unnecessarily. This is a case study in ministerial mismanagement.

I spent 15 months on the Special Committee to Reform the Police Act. We heard from more than a thousand people from diverse backgrounds, including police officers, leadership, experts, citizens, and academics, and we tabled an all-Party consensus report with 11 recommendations for police reform. The Minister sat on the report and failed to support our work. As a result, he and his BC NDP government lost the momentum gained on this important issue, and more disturbingly he opened the door for the issue of public safety to be politicized.

Then when the candidates in the 2022 municipal election campaign in Surrey made policing their top issue, the Minister again was silent. With the community in turmoil and their local politicians fighting over police services the BC NDP government stayed on the sidelines instead of showing leadership hoping the situation would resolve itself.

Brenda Locke won the Mayor seat and she and her Council followed through on her promise to scrap the police transition and keep the RCMP. That forced the Minister Farnworth to address the issue and he chose to force Surrey to keep the transition to the municipal police service. Now Surrey is taking the province to Court and everybody is spending millions of dollars unnecessarily.

This is an incredibly frustrating unforced error by Minister Farnworth, Premier David Eby, and the BC NDP government. It is costing more than millions, there is a political cost that must be paid, and confidence in the delivery of policing services.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how the Minister and the BC NDP government could have handled this issue worse.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 36, the Police Amendment Act.

It’s been interesting listening to this debate. I had the benefit of spending about 15 months on the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. One of the positive experiences that I’ll take away from my time in here was my experience on that committee. It was tough work and arduous work.

We spent many, many hours in those 15 months hearing testimony, hearing from policing services, hearing from communities, hearing from Indigenous leaders, mayors and councillors, listening from leaders in the policing community and hearing from other stakeholders that engage with policing on a regular basis.

We worked very diligently to come together with a set of recommendations that fully fulfilled the mandate that we had as a committee. It’s important to acknowledge that the name of the committee was about reform — reforming the Police Act. That committee started before the snap election in 2020, and it continued through to this parliament with some new members and with some of the members that were sitting there originally.

We have memories that reach back to the summer of 2020. We know that it was a particularly tense time. COVID-19. There were more questions than answers. Then, as well, the murder of George Floyd and the impact that that had, not only on the United States, but on the discussion and the public debate that was happening here in our province. The members of the committee were seized of this opportunity to present to this government a set of recommendations that fulfilled the mandate, as I said, reforming the Police Act.

What’s important for the public to understand about our committee process is that unlike this chamber, where we come in here and the partisan divide is easily identifiable, either physically by this red carpet in between us, or in the vote when we stand and vote and the Clerks call out the names, or in Hansard where you see this side and that side, in committee, we work to an end that is agreeable to everybody. We work toward consensus.

We spent a lot of time deliberating on those 11 recommendations. At the time, the three political parties that were represented in the House were represented on that committee. Part of the reason why I feel so good about that work that we did was because where there was disagreement, we were committed together to working toward agreement so that when that report was finally tabled here in April 2022, I believe it was, the report had agreement by all the members of the committee and, as an extension, by the members of this place. Consensus had been reached.

Consensus wasn’t easily found. It was negotiated. It was discussed. It came through effort. I think when the public looks at their governing institution, that’s what they hope. That’s the hope that they have for the people that they send to represent them in rooms like this or at the council table at their local government or in the federal parliament, the House of Commons, in Ottawa.

[4:00 p.m.]

But they hope, when they elect us, that we come here and work collaboratively, that we take our differences of opinion, and we round the edges a little bit. We take some sandpaper, and we work on them until there’s a smoother finish than was there when we first showed up or when the issues were initially laid before us.

The volume of content that we accumulated in that committee was immense. I think we had over 1,000 people participate in one way, shape or form. I think that’s even a conservative number. I think that there was far more than that.

In those recommendations, distilled from all of the things we heard…. The experiences of people who engage with the police, the experiences of police who engage with the public, the experience of the experts, of the academics who study policing, the experience of former Solicitors General, of people who led policing in this province and in other provinces informed those 11 recommendations. In the end, there was more than 11, but there were 11 broad categories of recommendations.

At the top of that was a new community safety and policing act. I think that what’s important to point out here is that we agreed and felt it important to frame this new legislation that we could envision, sitting at that table, as an act that dealt with community safety first and, obviously, policing as well but that there was a frame around it — that it wasn’t just about police. It was about community and public safety, an issue that continues to bubble to the surface here in the Legislative Assembly as it gets debated publicly but in probably the least effective….

If the committee space is the most effective space that we work in, in this House, one of the least effective spaces that happen in this place is question period. So we’re debating incredibly important and sensitive topics like public safety with the volley of question period and not a very effective place to debate.

It’s an effective place for opposition parties to raise important issues for British Columbia. I don’t want to diminish question period as being not of any use, but it’s not of a use in order to get to the bottom of an issue like the committee process was. So we proposed a change to community safety and police, a change to the frame of the act that would emerge from this successful process.

We also made a number of other recommendations. One of those recommendations was a transition to a provincial police service. Now, we have a provincial police service. We just contract it to the RCMP. But what we were talking about was a provincially controlled police service, one that is not the RCMP, one whose chain of command ends in this place, one who is not also burdened with an RCMP act and a bunch of federal politics, frankly, and a bunch of federal considerations — a policing service that is a British Columbia policing service like we once had.

We recommended an all-party oversight committee to oversee the transition to a provincial police service. Now, we know that the contract is coming up at about 2030. I think it’s 2032. So at the time that we tabled the report, we looked at it and we said: “Look, it’s ten years from now, a decade.”

When we looked at what happened in New Zealand, it took a decade for them to transition their policing services. We looked at the timeline, and we said that this would be a perfect timeline for us to continue to live to the agreement that we have with our current policing service and begin the transition and create a collaborative framework in which the members of this place, over a number of parliaments, potentially over a number of brands of government, too…. It could be several different governments or a few different governments, but that would provide some continuity in the transition.

[4:05 p.m.]

So create an oversight committee that is as inclusive as the committee that was tasked with reviewing and making recommendations to reform the police. Continue with the collaborative sense, the momentum that had been generated from the 15 months of us working together.

We encouraged the minister. Don’t lose that momentum. Don’t lose that momentum. Create that all-party committee. Have the work continue. Put the same members on it. Put some new members on it. It didn’t matter, really. The parties could pick whoever they want to be on that. But continue the work, the atmosphere of collaboration. Create an independent, civilian-led oversight.

This is about trust in policing. Make sure that when the public takes a look at the review of incidents that occur, they are confident that the public interest is the thing that’s put forward and not necessarily the policing interest. Make sure that there is an independent, civilian-led oversight of policing in the province.

Right now we have the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, who deals with the municipal police services, and we have the CRCC, the complaints process for the RCMP. So we have two processes. One that is entirely responsible and the chain of command ends here in B.C. And one that leaves this province and goes somewhere else. Once it goes across the Rockies, there’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to accept the result.

Standardize the initial and ongoing police education and training. We heard so much about how we are letting our officers down and not having the type of training that’s required in order to deal with the new and emerging roles and responsibilities that police, unfortunately, are having to play. Front-line workers on the opioid crisis.

Are they the correct people to be deploying to a mental health crisis? Absolutely not. But until this government finds a way to deploy the correct resource, they are the people that are showing up, and we owe it to them to give them the training and the ongoing education in order to be able to do that and not carry the burden of those incidents, day in and day out. Those sirens that we hear, day in and day out, just grinding away on people. The trauma that they carry because we, as an institution, haven’t provided the correct resource with the right type of training.

We said: “Look, we need to make sure that the type of training the communities want, the type of policing the community wants, the type of policing the Surrey police service, when they came to us and explained to us….”

They’re developing a community-based, grassroots, ground-up training and policing philosophy so that not every officer has weapons. The first point of contact isn’t necessarily a fully uniformed police officer. There is a variety of different policing responses, a variety of different community and public safety responses, being delivered by the policing service in place and a fair and equitable funding model.

There were a few other recommendations that we made. These were the key recommendations that we made that are directly applicable to Bill 36, the Police Amendment Act.
Part of the reason why I enter this debate with frustration in my voice is because all of this…. Everything that we’ve been experiencing with Surrey, as I’ve said repeatedly in the media and as I’ll continue to repeat if this unfortunate situation continues to go as it has, is…. All of it was entirely avoidable. None of it was necessary.

If the minister at the time of receiving the report had indicated — the initial mandate that the minister, himself, had given us to make recommendations about reforming police — that this government was committed to police reform, as they suggested when they struck the committee, we would have been given an indication that the recommendations that were put in that report weren’t going to be sitting on the shelf and collecting dust. They were going to be implemented.

[4:10 p.m.]

The momentum that was generated in the consensus-building process…. We could have capitalized on that. Instead of having the debate here in question period, we could have been having thoughtful discussions at the committee table. Instead of Surrey being a political lightning rod, instead of it being this ball that gets kicked back and forth across the net, we could have been having that discussion at the committee table with the minister, with the ministry, with the director of policing services. We could have been working through those challenging situations.

Public safety wouldn’t need to be brought up in this place at question period because there would have been a place that would have been reserved for that discussion. We gave the tools to the minister, but the minister chose to ignore them. The minister chose to put the report on the table.

Now I’ve been told, I’ve heard several time: “Don’t worry, those recommendations are coming forward.” Those recommendations are going to come forward. There are going to be changes made in the fall session. There are going to be changes made when the new Premier got sworn in. They’re going to bring forward those changes in the Police Act committee. Don’t worry. Fall 2023, you’re going to see some of those recommendations be brought forward in legislation. Oh, not fall 2023. Maybe the spring 2024 session. More momentum lost, more time wasted, more tension and stress brought to this discussion and on to this House.

We’re dealing with this Bill 36 today because of several missed opportunities by this current government. First, the missed opportunity to not embrace…. I recognize it’s going to take some time for the minister to look at the report, to understand the report, for government, for cabinet to talk about the report. But at the time, the director of policing services was presenting information to the to the committee. The ministry was paying close attention to the work that we were doing. None of the conversations that we were hearing that the information that was coming was too far away from the ministry to understand where this was going, the direction that we were headed in, the advice and the recommendations that we were being given to follow through on.

It really shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise what was in the report to the minister, even though the deliberations are in camera, and they’re not made available to the minister until the whole House sees them. Nothing that we proposed was too surprising to anybody who has been paying attention to policing in this province.

So the first missed opportunity wasn’t till shortly after that, a couple of months afterwards, maybe at the end of the summer of 2022. We’re going to strike that committee, and we’re going to start this work in earnest and that committee is going to work alongside the minister and the ministry. It’s going to work alongside every minister that sits in that seat until the reforming of policing happens in this province.

At that moment, the minister shows a type of leadership that, frankly, I haven’t seen in this place since I’ve been elected in here. That would have been a real show of leadership. To say: look, this is not something that the minister needs to do alone, that the ministry needs to do alone. This is a project that, indeed, in order for there to be broad acceptance in the public, we can all do together. Just like we did the review of the act altogether. It wasn’t just a committee of government members. It was a committee of all members representing all the political parties here. So that was a missed opportunity.

The second missed opportunity was in the fall 2022 municipal election. There was a moment at the beginning of that election where it was gearing up to be a debate about policing in the city of Surrey where the minister could have said, “We are on track. A decision is made. We’re going to sit with that decision,” similar to what the government is actually saying in this bill today. Several months later, a lawsuit later, several millions of dollars expended needlessly later, a bunch of political will lit on fire later.

[4:15 p.m.]

It’s essentially what’s happening in this bill, which is that you made a commitment and you’re going to follow through on the commitment. That’s clause 3.1(4)(b), I think, which is that when you make the decision, you follow through on it.

The minister at the municipal election could have stood up and said: “There’s no debate about this one, about this issue. We’re just going to follow through on the decision that the Surrey council has made. We’re going to continue the police transition. The municipal discussion, the debate about all of the issues, can continue forward, but this is not going to be an issue that the provincial government is going to have debated or that we’re going to change our minds on, so find some other issues to debate.”

By not doing that, by allowing the municipal election to become, as we’ve heard from several speakers, all about policing, all it did was build up a huge amount of tension on both sides of this issue. It really created absolutely a no-win situation. The only people that are winning in this are lawyers, as they’re going to be getting paid to continue these arguments. This has really become, because of the lack of the minister stepping in and saying, “We’re not going to entertain this debate,” a no-win situation.

So here we are debating a bill which, I think, for the most part, when you take a look at it, provides a couple of things. It provides clarity for communities under 5,000 that are getting towards that threshold, which we also talked about in the committee — how it is that they can transition from an RCMP service to taking full responsibility of their policing services. Communities at that stage have a choice. They can continue with the RCMP service, or they can staff up their own municipal police force. This bill provides some clarity for that.

This bill isn’t entirely…. There is usefulness to this bill outside of the Surrey policing service. But what this does is that, in a unique way, it enshrines some specific things about Surrey to only exist in this bill that are not going to exist in the Police Act. When you consider it in that context, it’s kind of just cleaning up a mess, and it actually leaves a mess as well.

What we see is that this lack of intervention, this lack of embracing the recommendations that the all-party committee made, has created a mess in Surrey. It’s going to create a mess on our books, and it’s going to create this remnant where we’re going to be able to look back on it and say: “What is this? What is this piece about Surrey?” The historians will be, like: “Oh, let me tell you about this piece about Surrey. This was this unfortunate situation that cost the city of Surrey, cost the people of British Columbia and cost the whole discussion around policing and public safety a whole bunch of money, a whole bunch of time and, in some respects, in this House, some ill will.”

Unfortunately, after all of that work, 15 months of work to build goodwill around public safety and policing, somehow we are in a worse spot today than we were before we did that work. There’s more division on the different sides of this House. There is more finger-pointing about it or a type of finger-pointing that wasn’t happening before. There were all sorts of other things being said about policing, but this debate that’s happening around Surrey certainly wasn’t the tone of the context of the debate.

[4:20 p.m.]

When we look at this bill, to me, it’s cleaning up something that need not be cleaned up, and it’s not addressing some of the key issues. One of those issues I asked in the technical briefing was around police of jurisdiction. One of the recommendations that I didn’t point out, which directly came to us by both the RCMP and the Surrey police service during our deliberations, was that the way that we handle police of jurisdiction in this province creates unnecessary competition when a community is in transition.

So you have the police of jurisdiction making the decisions, and you have a new police service coming in wanting to create and establish themselves. But until they become the police of jurisdiction, until they become the service that has the larger number of officers, they don’t get to make some decisions that need to be made in order to establish that system. There was this competition inherent in the way that our law is crafted.

Months ago I asked this minister: “Let’s make a change. Let’s make it so that we can remove the competition from it.” I asked where it was in this bill — not there. And then I asked where the new provincial police service was in this bill, knowing that it’s not there either.

But the reality of it is that there are some recommendations that we made in Reforming the Police Act that would have helped us, that would have helped the government, that would have helped the minister, that would have helped the cabinet and, in the end, would have helped the provincial treasury, would have helped the mayor of Surrey with clarity, would have helped the people of Surrey in the municipal election and would have helped the people of Surrey’s treasury at the end of the day.

To me, this situation that we find ourselves in is incredibly unfortunate. And we are now going to be put in a position where we come in at the end of this process to clean up a mess, to make some changes, to leave some legal remnants in the laws here that need not be there, all to do what the minister could have done months and months and months ago at none of the costs that we’re seeing today.

With that, I take my seat. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.


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