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BREAKING NEWS: Surrey loses policing transition court case

Justice Kevin Loo released his decision Thursday
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Brenda Locke photo by Anna Burns Mike Farnworth photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The City of Surrey has lost the judicial review related to the Surrey policing transition. Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said Thursday afternoon that the City’s legal team is digesting the judge’s decision and council will weigh its options.

Justice Kevin Loo of the B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday released his decision on the City’s petition aimed at quashing Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth’s July 19, 2023 order that the RCMP must be replaced by the Surrey Police Service.

Loo heard final submissions May 3, following a five-day hearing that began April 29 in Vancouver.

In his 26-page reasons for judgment, Loo addressed the City’s argument that the Police Amendment Act, 2023 (PAA) infringed on Surrey voters’ right to freedom of expression guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I have concluded that although voting is undoubtedly a protected activity, the ‘result’ or ‘mandate’ arising from the 2022 municipal election are not activities which fall within the protected sphere of conduct guaranteed,” Loo decided.

“Regardless of whether the July decision was reasonable or within the Minister’s authority, the provincial legislature’s exercise of its authority over the City in respect of policing, through its enactment of the PAA, was valid.”

Locke said the court challenge revealed “huge holes” in the transition to the SPS “on multiple levels” and the “true cost will have an extremely, extremely onerous impact on the City of Surrey and especially Surrey taxpayers.”

“I haven’t said we are going to appeal and I haven’t said we are not going to appeal,” she stressed. “I didn’t say we are going to continue with the fight.” If there were no transition, she added, “there would have been no – zero – tax increase in the City of Surrey in 2024.”

Farnworth held his press conference Thursday morning. “Today Justice Loo ruled in favour of the transition of the Surrey Police Service continuing,” he said. “The safety of the people in Surrey and across British Columbia has always been my main priority.”

Farnworth held a press conference Thursday morning to announce that “today Justice Loo ruled in favour of the transition of the Surrey Police Service continuing. The safety of the people in Surrey and across British Columbia has always been my main priority.”

“People of Surrey want this to be over and I’m hopeful that today’s ruling is the time to come together and work towards completing the transition to the Surrey Police Service,” Farnworth said. “Police officers no matter the uniform that they wear dedicate their lives to keeping people safe and I know that today’s ruling provides certainty to them and their families. To officers in the Surrey RCMP detachment, I know that work is already underway to ensure that your preferred placements are considered and my ministry is working closely with the RCMP as the transition continues.”

Farnworth told reporters it’s “pretty clear” in terms of the arguments the City brought before Loo “and the judge dismissed them. That’s it in a nutshell.”

READ ALSO: Judge reserves decision in Surrey’s policing transition judicial review

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In April Farnworth said the SPS will replace the RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction on Nov. 29, 2024 and the transition will be complete within two to two-and-a-half years.

Locke announced in November that the City would challenge in court the ‘constitutionality’ of the provincial government’s decision to replace the Surrey RCMP with the Surrey Police Service.

On Oct. 13, the City of Surrey filed its first petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. An amended petition to the Oct. 13 filing was then submitted to the court on Nov. 20 with Locke characterizing it as a “significant step to stop the NDP police service” and a reply to the provincial government’s “attempted police takeover, which would require a double digit – double digit – NDP tax hike on Surrey taxpayers.”

As for the City, Farnworth said Thursday, “I’d really like them to be at the table.”

“We’ve made it clear that the $150 million is there,” he said. “I think it would be really important if the City of Surrey is at the table working to ensure the transition is completed as smoothly and as quickly as possible,” he said. “This has been a very challenging issue I think for everybody and with today’s decision what I would like and I think the people of Surrey would want to see happen is that the City of Surrey comes to the table.”

READ ALSO: Surrey council’s mandate to keep RCMP not protected by charter, court hears

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“What matters the most is that the people of Surrey want this over and now with this court ruling they want the transition to continue with the City of Surrey working in collaboration with the Province,” Farnworth said. “It’ll be great if the City of Surrey is there but the transition is moving forward.”

Asked if he’s anticipating the City will appeal Loo’s decision, Farnworth replied he doesn’t know what the City intends to do. “I expect that they will be reviewing it and any decisions, you know, they will decide what to do from there. I think what’s important is the people of Surrey want this over and this decision certainly indicates that, you know what, it’s over.”

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Locke said the extra cost to fund the transition will be in the range of $75 million more per year and this will have a negative impact on taxation and infrastructure projects as well. “The biggest concern for us right now is the enormous tax burden that is in front of us, the $75 million dollars,” Locke said, adding that “$75 million is forever, and that will only escalate. We are looking at a generational decision that is being imposed on our city.”