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Ministry slams Surrey mayor for lack of leadership in police transition

A leaked letter outlines examples of lack of action and statements of misinformation by Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and city council.
The police transition in Surrey has spanned five years and two mayors.

The B.C. government is laying down the law when it comes to Surrey’s police transition with a letter that attributes delays in the process to “a lack of leadership and engagement by City Council and City staff.”

Addressed to Mayor Brenda Locke from Glen Lewis, assistant deputy minister and director of police services, the letter gives Surrey a deadline of Oct. 13, 2023, to submit a written report on how the city will rectify issues related to the transition.

“Despite the significant work undertaken to date and the commitments made by senior levels of government toward resetting and resuming the transition planning and implementation, I am increasingly concerned about delays and the impact to progressing the transition, it is my observation that this lack of progress and delay is due in large part to a lack of leadership and engagement by City Council and City staff,” Lewis said in the letter obtained by Glacier Media. 

In response to the letter, Locke said it is ironic that the province is asking for a plan when that is what the city has been requesting from the province for the past eight months.

“I find it interesting that, once again, I'm responding to a leaked document. I don't understand why the ministry doesn't just pick up the phone and give me a call,” said Locke in an interview.

“I think the comments in here are highly inflated and very unfair.”

The document is dated Oct. 4, 2023, and is a follow-up to a letter from Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to Locke on Sept. 15, 2023.

“My director of police services has a statutory responsibility to ensure that policing services are delivered in the way that they're supposed to be. The letter sent to Mayor Locke outlines a number of issues where the city has made inaccurate and false statements,” said Farnworth in a statement.

“My decision is done and my decision is final. It’s time for the city to recognize that decision, stop the delays and continue working with the province, the federal government and the RCMP on the transition to the SPS (Surrey Police Service).”

The follow-up letter outlines multiple examples of the city’s alleged inaction when it comes to transitioning from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to the dedicated municipal police force, a process that began five years ago with the previous mayor and council.

In one example, the letter said that the Surrey Police Board submitted the Surrey Police Service provisional budget for 2023 of roughly $160 million to the city.

“I understand the City never responded or corresponded further with the Surrey Police Board regarding the submitted SPS budget and subsequently included only approximately $49 million within the City budget in March 2023 allocated to the first two quarters of the fiscal year,” Lewis said in the letter.

In another example, Lewis asserts that city staff “consistently state to its partners” that they have been instructed not to engage meaningfully in any work until they receive direction from city council.

Public claims made by Locke regarding Jessica McDonald as the strategic implementation advisor were also referenced.

The appointment of McDonald was described as “awkward” by Locke due to McDonald's position as director with GFL Environmental Inc. (TSX:GFL), a garbage-hauling company that has a contract with Surrey.

City staff conducted a legal review to establish if there is a conflict of interest, according to the letter.

“Staff have been unwilling to provide a clear and unequivocal view to me, which is required for the trilateral parties and other partners to be able to progress work with her role. To be clear, these public statements and lack of action are undermining of the role of the Strategic Implementation Advisor,” Lewis said.

Other examples include Lewis being copied on an email from Locke to B.C. Premier David Eby that includes information regarding cost increases to the city “may be inaccurate and/or misrepresented.”

“The information that we gave was absolutely the information that we received from the Surrey Police Service. So, I don't know where they got their information,” said Locke.

This in addition to a claim that the city has “yet to engage with Ministry officials” regarding the $150 million that was promised by the province to the city and is meant to cover any extra costs incurred from the transition.

However, the city is arguing that they have not received any of the funding from the province in relation to the transition.

“I am aware of the public announcement, the public pledge of $150 million, which I have on many occasions have said is not enough to cover the damages done to the city both historically and on a go-forward basis,” said general manager of finance Kam Grewal in a Sept. 11, 2023, council meeting.

As to whether Surrey will be responding in writing by the Oct. 13 deadline, Locke said that it is a “completely unreasonable request.”

“They took eight months to get a decision to us and then they want us to respond to their letter with all its inflammatory accusations inside of a week. I think it's unreasonable. We'll do what we can to get information but at the end of the day just because we don't agree with them, doesn't mean we're not working on this project, doesn't mean we aren't moving the agenda forward and it certainly doesn’t mean we’re not meeting with people,” she said.