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Over 42,000 Surrey residents call for referendum on police transition

“A decision this big, this expensive and this controversial needs to go to the people."
Surrey Police Vote
Darlene Bennett stands before over 42,000 signatures collected in Surrey asking for a referendum on the police transition from RCMP to the Surrey Police Service.

Over 12 per cent of Surrey’s eligible voters are calling for a referendum on the city’s police force.

The Surrey Police Vote finalized its 90-day campaign on Nov. 15, collecting 42,942 local signatures through an Elections BC-approved petition. By comparison, the transition’s key proponent, Mayor Doug McCallum, received 45,564 votes in 2018 after campaigning that he’d be seeking a new police force if elected.

“The responsibility to do the right thing now lies with the Province. Let the people decide and put this to a regional referendum,” stated the organization’s leader Darlene Bennett via a new release.

Bennett, who has the backing of the the RCMP union and the National Police Federation, is particularly concerned about the handling of investigative files through the transition. Her husband’s murder in a case of mistaken identity remains unresolved. 

Others are concerned about costs, including petitioner and victim’s rights advocate Eileen Mohan, whose innocent son Christopher Mohan was murdered in the infamous 2007 Surrey Six slayings.

“A decision this big, this expensive and this controversial needs to go to the people,” said Mohan.

Normally an official petition requires 10 per cent of signatures from all provincial ridings in order to impose obligations on the provincial government. However, the Surrey Police Vote campaign hopes the sheer volume of signatures in Surrey alone compels the BC NDP to impose a local referendum in the city. 

“While the Initiative legislation does not contemplate a regional petition, the B.C. Referendum Act does give the B.C. cabinet the power to order a regional referendum on any issue — and could easily do so on Surrey policing,” said Bill Tieleman, campaign strategist. 

The campaign was not without controversy.

Keep the RCMP in Surrey group leader Ivan Scott, who helped gather volunteers to gather signatures, claimed they were targeted by bylaw officers. Then, on Sept. 4, the mayor claimed a possible group supporter ran over his foot in a grocery store parking lot after he exchanged words with Scott.

The new Surrey Police Service is scheduled to deploy 50 officers in a hybrid model by the end of this month. More than 100 officers have been hired, meaning the municipality is spending millions per month to cover both the service and the costs of the Surrey RCMP — something the initial plan never contemplated.

McCallum and supporters have justified the need for a municipal force given Surrey is the largest city in Canada without its own department. The plan initially had full support from city council in November 2018, but a lack of public consultation and obscure budgeting led to a 4-5 split on the transition by the summer of 2019.

Coun. Brenda Locke is running for mayor under the Surrey Connect slate. Locke says the project is not past the point of no return to scrap it by next fall.

On Tuesday, Elections BC stated the petition had fallen short of the required signatures in each electoral district and will not be counting or validating any of the submitted signatures. Bennett must file a financing report with the Chief Electoral Officer by December 13.

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