Tory federal public safety minister Vic Toews and Liberal provincial minister of justice Shirley Bond signing Surrey’s 20-year contract with the RCMP in B.C., during a special ceremony at the Surrey RCMP detachment, in 2012. (File photo)

Tory federal public safety minister Vic Toews and Liberal provincial minister of justice Shirley Bond signing Surrey’s 20-year contract with the RCMP in B.C., during a special ceremony at the Surrey RCMP detachment, in 2012. (File photo)

Does anyone really know when Surrey RCMP’s contract expires?

Even Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, officer in charge of the Surrey RCMP, doesn’t know when

Trying to find out when the Surrey RCMP’s contract expires – and who will then be responsible for picking up the tab for the detachment’s budget as the Surrey Police Service is still being formed – is like hunting for the Ark of the Covenant.

Some internet posts, and the National Police Federation which bargains for the RCMP, say the contract expired March 31 but even Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, officer in charge of the Surrey RCMP, doesn’t know when.

“Even I don’t know, because we’re not a signatory, so it’s really the business of the province,” Edwards said Thursday. “We’ll continue to supply services until we no longer do but the actual termination of that agreement will be between the province and city.”

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said “you need to talk to the government on that.

“The contract’s not with the city,” he said. “The contract for all policing is with the province, so the province has to answer that question. They’re the ones that deal with the RCMP.”

The Now-Leader also reached out to Minister of Public Safey and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth for illumination, as well as Surrey Police Board executive director Melissa Granum and Terry Waterhouse, general manager of the city’s policing transition. They have yet to shed light on the question.

Caroline McAndrews, communications director for Farnworth’s ministry, said the city’s Municipal Police Unit Agreement (MPUA) for RCMP policing “remains in effect” and “this will continue until the Surrey Police Service is ready to operationalize and assume policing and law enforcement in Surrey.” She did not provide a date for expiry.

“Public safety continues to be our top priority and core driving principle; adequate and effective policing services will be maintained through the transition and once the Surrey Police Service is fully operational.”

READ ALSO: National Police Federation members slam Surrey police transition to Surrey Board of Trade

READ ALSO: Surrey Police Service chief expects some ‘boots on the ground’ this year.

Surrey city Councillor Jack Hundial, a former Surrey Mountie, noted on April 1 – the day after the contract was, according to some sources, supposed to expire – the Surrey RCMP’s contract had not yet expired.

“As far as I know, no notice has been given yet to the RCMP,” he told the Now-Leader. “So there’s been no official notice provided yet. They’re still working on a tripartite committee agreement.

“I drove by a couple of police cruisers this morning, Surrey RCMP cruisers, so they’re still here, I know that,” he mused. “This whole process has been so fraught with misinformation and lack of clarity that it depends on which level of government you talk to will have a different interpretation of this.”

When the latest contract was signed with the RCMP in B.C., Hundial said, “there really was no exit clause for a detachment of this size. Ultimately public safety is a key paramount piece here, so the citizens still need to feel safe in their community.”

Hundial said if it were that simple to set an arbitrary number for a contract expiry date, a tripartite committee in Ottawa would not have to be struck concerning how the Surrey Police Service will be phased in, and the Surrey RCMP will be phased out.

Asked if the city is paying the full price for the RCMP at this moment, Hundial replied not that he’s aware of.

“The contract still exists where it’s 90 per cent, and 10 per cent subsidy from the federal government,” he noted. “This is such a high-level conversation, and it’s an ongoing conversation, that it would be very difficult to inquire of any one person. It’s a negotiation at this point, right.”

READ ALSO: Surrey councillors take their fight against Surrey policing transition B.C.-wide

As for SPS Chief Constable Norm Lipinksi saying he hopes to have “boots on the ground” sometimes this year, Hundial said what he finds interesting is some of the officers hired to the new force are still police officers in other organizations who are burning off their leave, “and for some of them it’s going to be months and months.”

“So really they can’t even get sworn in so there’s people who have been hired in SPS that currently can’t get sworn in because they are currently drawing a wage or compensation from the previous employer as police officers,” Hundial noted. “You can’t get sworn in as a police officer in two different areas.”

Utimately, at this point in time, Surrey taxpayers are paying for at least 90 per cent of the cost of the Surrey RCMP as well as 100 per cent of the new police officers – Lipinski himself, and those hired onto the new force – including the support staff “that’s been added to this mix now as well, which we don’t really know how many of those there are.”

Ultimately, then, Surrey taxpayers are paying for two parallel policing universes in this city.

“You’re getting the existing contract from the RCMP, which is at 90/10 and 100 per cent of whatever the SPS is.

“It is very confusing because nothing like this has ever been done before,” Hundial said. “Had there been a proper feasibility study it would be very transparent for everyone. I can’t imagine even as a reporter, let alone someone from the public trying to understand this because it’s been so fraught in misinformation from the beginning. And it’s not as simple as a stroke of a pen, it all happens. I mean, you’re dealing with people’s careers, you’re dealing with public safety, you’re dealing with matters that are currently under investigation, matters before the court. So you can’t really apply the simpleton political language to something as complex as this.”

The SPS on Thursday announced the hiring of five new officers to its leadership team, and Surrey taxpayer’s bill. Sharlene Brooks, public affairs and communications manager for the new force, said Lipinski said she’s not sure the chief constable would be “the best one” to address matters of when the Surrey RCMP’s contract will expire and its budget following that because “his focus has been to stand up the (SPS) organization.”

The Surrey RCMP has been policing these parts since it replaced the Surrey Police Force on May 1, 1951. During this current Surrey council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, 2018 it served notice to the provincial and federal governments it will end its contract with the RCMP to set up its own force. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth then on Aug. 22, 2019 gave the city the go-ahead to pursue the plan.

In March 2012, then-federal public safety minister Vic Toews and then-provincial minister of justice Shirley Bond met at the Surrey detachment, with much fanfare, to renew a 20-year contract for RCMP policing in B.C., after four years of negotiations.

That contract, set to expire on March 31, 2032, afforded the provincial government and municipalities with more say in how the RCMP is run in B.C. Like the agreement it replaced, it contains a clause where any city or municipality can opt out with two years’ notice.

Under it, smaller municipalities and cities with populations between 5,000 and 15,000 people pay 70 per cent of their contract costs, while cities with populations over 15,000 – like Surrey – would keep paying 90 per cent with the remaining 10 per cent being picked up by the federal government.

Meantime, McCallum said at press time that people keep asking him when are we actually going to see the Surrey Police Service on patrol, or with “boots on the ground.

“They’re excited to see them come.”

Asked when that will happen, McCallum replied, “I would suspect, I’ve always sort of indicated and I think they’ve indicated that it’ll be around the summer, either just before or during the summer or just after, somewhere in that period anyways.”

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