Opponents of Surrey’s transition to a municipal police force spent Sunday in a final push to gather signatures as they try to force a referendum on the switch.
The group Surrey Police Vote is hoping to make use of B.C.’s Recall and Initiative Act, the law that forced the HST referendum, to pressure the provincial government to hold a vote.
“People are wanting a say in this. They’re wanting a voice, and they haven’t had one,” organizer Darlene Bennett told Global News.
“The mayor hasn’t been able to give factual information, be transparent about costs, and what we’re actually getting.”
Under the legislation, initiative proponents must gather signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding in the province to trigger a referendum.
Bennett said her group didn’t try to do that, and focused its efforts primarily on Surrey’s nine ridings, where she’s confident the group will meet the 10 per cent threshold.
While the province wouldn’t be legally required to act, she believes the political pressure would force B.C.’s NDP government to hold a vote.
“I think we’re really close. We need a little over 35,000 (signatures) and I believe we’re very, very close to that,” she said.
Bennett, whose husband Paul was an innocent victim in a botched gangland hit in 2018, said her primary concerns were the ability of the new force to be effective and connected to the community, and the rising and still unclear cost of the transition.
“The costs just kept rising — our property taxes, everybody saw at least an 11 per cent rise this year,” she said.
“They said they have police officers joining from 17 police agencies across Canada. That doesn’t sound very local to me.”
The transition to a municipal police force in Surrey was one of Mayor Doug McCallum’s key election promises.
Since then, the issue has become a political lightning rod and been at the heart of several high-profile civic fracases, including a recent city ban on lawn signs that transition opponents say unfairly targeted them.
Police have also opened a mischief investigation stemming from an incident in September in which McCallum alleged pro-RCMP campaigners had run over his foot.
McCallum has maintained the transition will go ahead as planned. The department has made a number of key hires, including a chief and senior staff, and is aiming to have 50 officers on the streets working alongside the Surrey RCMP by the end of November.
Surrey Coun. Brenda Locke, who also opposes the transition, said the provincial government would be foolish to ignore the campaign if it manages to collect signatures from 10 per cent of registered Surrey voters.
“This is a very big issue here. Surrey is a very important electoral area for all governments, and they’d better pay attention,” she said.
If the campaign is successful in its goal, she said she hopes the province would hold a vote in concert with the 2022 municipal elections.
Surrey Police Vote says it will hold a media event Monday to reveal the results of its campaign.