VANCOUVER – The union representing RCMP officers is accusing the city of BC with the largest detachment in the country of being undemocratic in the wake of changes made to a local statute governing political signs.
The indictment is the latest salvo in an ugly battle between RCMP supporters and those who want Surrey, BC, to have a municipal police force.
The National Police Federation, which represents some 20,000 mounted in Canada, released a statement Wednesday saying that an amendment to a Surrey statute restricting political cartels is intended to muzzle those who support the national police force as the city is moving towards its replacement by a municipal police service.
“It seems very undemocratic,” says Rob Farrer, NPF’s board director. “It seems reminiscent of what an authoritarian regime would do to silence democracy.”
Now, the federation has sent a letter to the province’s municipal affairs minister, Josie Osborne, to defend the “rights of all residents” in the province and warning that this could set a precedent for other municipalities to follow.
The complaint is the latest development in a years-long political battle between RCMP supporters and the city. The political donnybrook has even included allegations by Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum that RCMP supporters ran him over in a car.
McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition were elected in 2018 and during the campaign promised to replace the RCMP with a municipal police force in the city of nearly 600,000 that is part of Metro Vancouver.
The change to a municipal force has already begun.
The decision was controversial and opponents of the plan soon organized. A group called “Keep the RCMP in Surrey” began to seed the city with posters supporting the Mounties.
On October 18, the city changed an ordinance initially passed more than 20 years ago to target election posters on public property during campaigns. The changes were approved by the council.
“The definition of ‘political sign’ will be expanded to, among other things, capture posters related to political issues, referendums, plebiscites and requests for initiative and revocation,” read the changes proposed in a report to the council. “It will also include posters that support, oppose or disapprove of candidates or problems.”
Those who support the maintenance of the RCMP accuse the city council of having a more nefarious intention; silencing his opposition to the transition to a municipal force. McCallum did not respond to a request for comment from the Star on Wednesday.
But Surrey Councilwoman and Safe Surrey Coalition member Laurie Guerra said outrage over the changes is political and false. Guerra insists the city does not intend to target citizens with political cause posters with the statute changes.
“In my opinion, that’s nonsense,” he said. “For me, it was more of a cleanse than anything else.”
Guerra said the changes are intended to ensure that political posters, such as election or referendum posters, have specific deadlines for installation. The changes only expand an old statute to include processes like plebiscites.
He said the changes simply describe “there is a time and a place” for political posters, but the city is not interested in telling people to remove posters that are not related to a formal process.
The city will not investigate other political signs unless it receives complaints, he said.
“It would be difficult to break into anyone’s property in Surrey and start removing signs,” Guerra said. “That was not the idea.”
But Guerra said he did not know what criteria would be used to determine which signals are political, and said it would be carried out on a case-by-case basis.
Guerra questioned why the NPF is getting involved in the issue.
“Why is the NPF, the RCMP union, paying so much money to try to stay here instead of allowing the city of Surrey, which is a municipal problem, to get our own police force?” she said.
Farrer said his union represents 800 members working in Surrey, arguing that their presence justifies their involvement on the issue. Despite the warranties of Guerra, he does not trust the intention of the city.
“The timing would be suspicious,” he said. “There is no greater doubt what is happening in Surrey right now than this.”
Meanwhile, Paul Daynes of the Keep the RCMP campaign in Surrey said he believes the city plans to use the statute to target those who have bet on his organization’s posters that support the RCMP. He said the group has distributed more than 8,000 such posters with 1,000 more orders at a cost of about $ 5,000 per batch of 1,000 posters.
Daynes said he is “100 percent certain” that the city has changed bylaws to target the organization’s posters. He said that it violates the right to participate in the democratic process.
“We have received legal advice,” Daynes said. “We believe that it is a serious violation of the charter of rights and freedoms.”
He said his group is concerned that the mayor may be grouping his movement with another trying to force a referendum on the police issue through a petition, which the city may try to use to subject them to the ordinance.