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Critics of Surrey Police Force get go-ahead to try to get referendum

Last Updated Jun 17, 2021 at 10:38 pm PDT

FILE - A Surrey Police cruiser sits outside the Cloverdale Recreation Centre during the first open house about creating an independent police force in Surrey. (Marcella Bernardo, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Those behind the Surrey Police Vote Initiative say Elections BC is giving them a chance to force a binding referendum

Critics have 60 days to start signing up canvassers, another 90 days to get 10 per cent of eligible B.C. voters to sign

Initiative is being led by Darlene Bennett, whose husband was killed in a case of mistaken identity in June 2018

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – Elections BC is giving critics of the Surrey Police Service the chance to force a binding referendum, potentially putting the future of Mayor Doug McCallum’s planned municipal force in question.

The Surrey Police Vote Initiative, which is behind the push for a referendum, will have 60 days to start signing up canvassers and then another 90 days to get 10 per cent of registered voters in each of B.C.’s electoral districts to sign the petition.

“Any registered voter in British Columbia can apply to have a petition issued under the Recall and Initiative Act to gather support for a legislative proposal,” Elections BC explained Thursday. “Applications are approved if the legislative proposal is clear and unambiguous and within the jurisdiction of the provincial legislature. Elections BC reviews applications based on these legislated requirements. It does not take a position on the subject of a petition or the merits of a legislative proposal.”

The initiative is being led by Darlene Bennett, whose husband was killed in a case of mistaken identity in June 2018.

“Surrey residents are seeing the costs of this proposed Surrey Police Service go up and up,” said Bennett, pointing to higher property tax bills, “with an average 11 per cent increase and a $200 per home parcel tax increase, to pay for this expensive and unnecessary transition.”

She says there’s been no clear plan, feasibility study, or case made that switching to a municipal force would come with added public safety benefit.

“Surrey voters have been asking for a definitive say on this with no response, and now we’re asking government to hold a referendum,” she said.

The Cloverdale woman also fears the case of her husband’s killing will be compromised in the switch from the RCMP.

Related article: Surrey Police moves ahead with officer recruitment, despite city’s gang violence

She says she’s been waiting for months to launch this campaign for a referendum.

“Whether you support retaining the RCMP, as I do, or want the proposed Surrey Police Service, I believe everyone should have a vote on the final decision,” Bennett said.

Her husband, Paul, was a nurse and beloved minor hockey coach. He was shot and killed in his driveway in what police have said was a case of mistaken identity.

Darlene Bennett spoke out in May to make one final push to keep the RCMP by applying to Elections BC for a referendum.

Bringing in a municipal force was an election pledge for Mayor McCallum, but critics have argued he downplayed the real costs of making that change.

For his part, McCallum says transitioning to an independent police force was the top election issue for people in Surrey in 2018, and shortly after the current council was sworn in, it unanimously voted in favour of it.

“The Province has said before that it is not interested in a referendum, and this will not change, as they have been supportive of the transition since day 1,” McCallum said in a statement.

“The idea of a provincial referendum on a municipal matter is extremely dangerous for every city’s democratic process. Our residents are clearly in support of this transition, and we are pressing forward everyday, moving closer to fully operating the Surrey Police Service.”

He says this development “will not slow down the building of own own independent Surrey Police.”

Related article: Surrey murder victim’s widow pushes for referendum on city’s police transition

If held, the referendum would include a single question around whether Surrey should retain the RCMP as its police force, or create a new one.

“Individuals or organizations who intend to oppose the initiative, conduct initiative advertising, or canvass for signatures must be registered with Elections BC,” Elections BC added. “The deadline to apply to be an opponent of the initiative is Monday, July 19, 2021.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the threshold for a successful referendum is 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s 87 electoral districts.