The widow of a murdered bystander in Surrey has joined forces with the RCMP’s union to petition the provincial government for a referendum on the city’s police transition process.
Darlene Bennett says a primary concern of hers is the transfer of investigation files, such as those that of her husband Paul Bennett, who was killed at his home in 2018 in a case of mistaken identity.
The transition process to date has given her little reassurance.
“There has been no feasibility study, no clear plan and no obvious 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,” said Bennett in a news release.
“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,” she added.
Bennett has filed an initiative petition with Elections BC under the “Surrey Police Vote” campaign.
Although the petition is based on B.C. legislation that allows voters to sign a “citizens’ initiative process,” it will be symbolic in nature because any successful petition under the Recall and Initiative Act must receive signatures from 10% of registered voters in all electoral districts, and canvassers will only be collecting signatures from the nine Surrey provincial electoral districts.
Property manager and conservative political campaigner Brock Stephenson, a Burnaby resident, is helping Bennett find canvassers. Stephenson said the canvassers of signatures from all nine Surrey electoral districts and thus the campaign is technically symbolic.
Behind Bennett is the large National Police Federation, the union for Mounties. Supporting and lobbying for NPF is Bill Tieleman, who successfully petitioned against the HST in 2011. NPF states it has about 20,000 members and there are about 850 Surrey RCMP officers.
Stephenson is acting as a spokesperson as well.
Stephenson said the transition is a waste of money and details of costs have not been transparent to date.
Stephenson notes in his statement that “while the Initiative petition legislation does not contemplate a regional petition, the B.C. Referendum Act does allow the B.C. cabinet to order a regional referendum on any issue – and could easily do so on Surrey policing.”
If the petition is successful in Surrey, the group hopes to use it as political leverage.
So far, the BC NDP government has been hands-off of what is largely a municipal matter – although opponents suggest there will be a ripple effect on regional and provincial policing as the transition unfolds (such as recruitment from other detachments).
Last month Surrey councillor Brenda Locke called on city council to ask the province for a referendum but the Safe Surrey Coalition (SSC) denied the motion.
Norm Lipinski, the new chief of the Surrey Police Service, says some active officers could be deployed as early as the end of the year, although he concedes the full implementation is at least two years away. To date much of the planned expenditures have not come to fruition, although SPS is in the process of hiring senior officers and adding them to the payroll.