Skip to content

Claims of Surrey RCMP harassment fell into 'jurisdictional void': B.C. court papers

VANCOUVER — Lawyers for the Surrey Police Union say officers were subjected to harassment and disrespect by members of the Surrey RCMP, only to be left in a "jurisdictional void" when both federal and British Columbia bodies declined to investigate t
The B.C. RCMP Divisional Headquarters is seen, in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 11, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

VANCOUVER — Lawyers for the Surrey Police Union say officers were subjected to harassment and disrespect by members of the Surrey RCMP, only to be left in a "jurisdictional void" when both federal and British Columbia bodies declined to investigate their allegations. 

The claims that Surrey Police Service officers working alongside the RCMP in Surrey were subjected to a "toxic work environment" are contained in documents related to the City of Surrey's legal challenge against a transition from the RCMP to the municipal force.

Five days of hearings concluded Friday with Justice Kevin Loo saying he recognized the "urgency" of the situation, and would make a ruling as "quickly as reasonably possible." 

At the outset of the hearings, lawyers for the B.C. Public Safety Ministry had sought to seal exhibits containing the harassment allegations, but that was denied by Loo and the union's documents were filed Thursday.

The exhibits are attached to an affidavit by union president Rick Stewart, who says in one of the documents that the experiences of union members "illustrate systemic understaffing, under-supervision and unsafe tactics at the Surrey RCMP." 

A "respectful workplace investigation summary" dated January 2023 by Surrey Police Service Insp. Bal Brach says 12 Surrey officers reported 50 incidents of "harassment and/or disrespectful behaviour" by RCMP colleagues. 

Brach's report says some RCMP supervisors engaged in an "ongoing scheme of disrespect and harassment" and "negatively reported on" Surrey officers deployed alongside them during the transition.

It says a Surrey officer of "mixed race" reported that an RCMP or City of Surrey employee said they "disliked" the city of Toronto because there were "too many 'Black' people there," and a month later saw two Mounties "play a racialized and discriminatory game that mocked a Black male suspect." 

Brach's report says other Surrey Police Service members complained of being publicly ridiculed, intimidated or ostracized while working with the Surrey RCMP.

It says one RCMP member had a "Keep the RCMP in Surrey" flag and a political poster supporting Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke displayed at his desk. 

Locke was elected on a promise to halt the transition and keep the RCMP in Surrey, but the province made legislative changes compelling the switch. That move has been the subject of the city's legal challenge this week, which seeks a judicial review.

The documents say efforts by the union's lawyers to have the matters investigated were hampered when both federal and provincial bodies declined jurisdiction over the bullying and harassment concerns. 

A letter from union lawyer Sebastian Anderson to a private third-party arbitrator describes the situation.

“In spite of complaints being made to both WorkSafeBC and Labour Canada, both governmental agencies have declined jurisdiction — WorkSafeBC because the work sites are federally regulated and Labour Canada because the employees are provincially regulated,” the letter that is among the exhibits says. 

“We recognize the unique nature of this dispute gives rise to challenging and interesting jurisdictional issues due to the deployment of provincially regulated employees to federally regulated work sites.” 

In their efforts to have the harassment claims sealed from public view, ministry lawyers had warned the documents could cause "undue public concern" over the state of affairs at the Surrey RCMP detachment.

The RCMP is not involved in the court dispute but issued a statement after the court declined to seal the materials on Tuesday.

"RCMP is committed to providing a healthy, safe and respectful workplace for all employees, free of harassment and discrimination," it said.

"Surrey RCMP and SPS officers have worked together in the detachment for over two years and have done so with professionalism." 

During the hearings that began Monday, City of Surrey lawyers argued that the Ministry of Public Safety overstepped its legal authority by ordering the city to complete the transition to the Surrey Police Service.

The city is seeking a judicial review of the minister's decision, and a declaration that the province had no authority to assign the city responsibility for the transition without providing adequate funding.

City lawyers also argued this week that the province had "nullified" voters' Charter right to freedom of expression because they had elected Locke on a pledge to stick with the RCMP.

On Friday, the court heard that the ministry believes the provincial Police Act is clear that cities have to bear their own costs for policing, in a "long-standing" obligation. 

Lawyer Trevor Bant for the ministry told the court that the minister's "only role" was to determine what was safe, regardless of cost, when he ordered the transition to continue in July 2023. 

Craig Dennis, representing the City of Surrey, said that decision ignored how the Surrey RCMP detachment planned to deal with potential staffing shortfalls if the transition was abandoned. 

He said the city was open to offering Surrey Police Service officers a signing bonus to join the RCMP, and the minister's failure to consider its contingency plan was a "flaw in the reasoning process." 

"Public safety is hardly the only consideration in the choice," Dennis said. "Other factors like costs and local priorities, the representativeness of the community, also are relevant, and that's why the optimal choice belongs at the local level to Surrey." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2024.

Darryl Greer, The Canadian Press