An all-party legislative committee tasked with modernizing the B.C. Police Act released its report with a splash last week, but do not expect its biggest recommendation to turn into reality anytime soon, if ever.
That would be the idea of getting rid of the RCMP and replacing it with a provincial police force. Unless there is a strong consensus among the 12 municipalities to get rid of their own municipal police forces, the idea of booting the RCMP out of its 130 detachments in B.C. is likely dead in the water.
The B.C. government and the RCMP have a contract for that police force to provide services until March, 2032. Either side can terminate the agreement but have to give at least two years notice of wanting to do so.
Not only would moving to a provincial police force be a complicated, lengthy and expensive process, but it would likely create significant problems at the political level as well.
That is why I can’t see either the NDP or the BC Liberals moving down that road in the years ahead, no matter which party is in power.
While the legislative committee was made of MLAs from both parties (as well as Green Party MLA Adam Olsen) its recommendations are non-binding and were made through a committee lens, not a government one.
Given the political turmoil created in Surrey with its controversial move to a municipal force in place of the RCMP, I am sure any provincial cabinet would think long and hard before jumping off that cliff into a sea of controversy were it to seriously consider the provincial police idea.
B.C.’s 12 municipal police forces cover about 27 electoral ridings, 19 of which are held by NDP MLAs (this does not include Surrey). While in many respects the idea of amalgamating at least some of them into a regional force sounds good on paper, the political realities of such a shift could create a firestorm where one does not exist right now.
This is not to say the 46-year-old Police Act does not need modernizing. It does – and the committee provided valuable work and recommendations designed to do just that.
The MLAs addressed issues such as ending systemic racism, creating more diversity, strengthening indigenous rights and improving the training and education of police officers.
They also recommended that the government “create an appropriately fund a continuum of response to mental health, addictions and complex social issues” that includes increased coordination and integration across police, health, mental health and social services.
This may be the most important recommendation of the committee’s 11 recommendations. We shall see if action is taken along these lines, or whether the report simply gathers dust on a legislature library shelf (given the increasing number of mental health challenges police officers face in the course of their duties, I suspect this recommendation will get some much needed attention).
Best to focus on the more “doable” ideas the committee has come up, rather than the splashy idea of turning police services on their head by creating a provincial force.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.