Small Dutch boy needed…

There are a lot of analogies that would seem to fit the current state of bedlam in Surrey, that bastion of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police efforts in municipal policing, their veritable flagship of contract policing. Mary Mapes Dodge in her story of “Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates” wrote about the little Dutch boy who saved his country from disaster, by plugging a finger in the dike until help arrived the next day. It seems to be a fitting description of Surrey and the RCMP– in light of the back and forth bureaucratic political maelstrom now taking place in that fair city while also reflecting the current overall state of Canada’s national police force.

Of course in this metaphorical dike there is more than a single hole, there are many, all of which are being plugged by the fingers of the likes of Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, Assistant Commissioner Manny Mann, and Chief Superintendent Sean Gill. Playing the Dutch Queen, is the the illustrious and apparent policing expert Brenda Locke who is of course, now the mayor of Surrey with her 28% of the popular vote versus 27.3% of the popular vote for Doug McCallum.

Her lacklustre .7% win did not deter her from giving the speech about the “people have spoken”. Brenda Locke to keep her promise is willing to pay out over $100 million of taxpayer dollars to go back to the status quo of keeping the Mounties. (Did we mention that she used to be a party supporter of McCallum when he originally made it an election issue for a separate police force). She fell out of McCallum’s favour though and then switched her position. This all seems to be more about political revenge than thought out policy. In any event it has come about that on November 29th, Locke and her new group of councillors voting 5-4, have now endorsed the “framework for a development of a plan” to undo what has been done. This was after a presentation by A/Comm Edwards to the City council wherein he talked about what a great job the Mounties are doing and will continue to do when they get rid of those nasty Surrey Police Service upstarts, which by the way are now a few hundred members strong. A “Project Team” will oversee a development of this plan, that will need to be submitted to city council by December 12, 2022– which in turn would need to be forwarded to the BC Solicitor General and the Public Safety Minister for approval. Of course new Premier Eby will have a final say, one way or another.

One must keep in mind that the transition to a City Police Service has already been approved by all three levels of government.

For the BC Police Services and the Ministers to reverse that original McCallum majority government led initiative, one would think will take some real persuasion. Locke must realize that it is a high hill to climb so she has tried to stack her Project Team by hiring Dr. Peter German (clearly someone who has the ear of Premier Eby who had hired German when he was looking into money laundering and the casinos) and Tonia Enger (a self-declared “contract policing expert”). Both of course are former RCMP officers of lengthy service, and one would have to assume that their report will now have to be supportive of a return to the RCMP, and somehow also make it seem logical. Expect to see the money issue down-played.

The RCMP and their union, the National Police Federation, have been strident and vocal supporters of Locke to oppose McCallum, the Darth Vader of Surrey politics. I have been told on good authority that at the election headquarters for Locke on the night of the vote, Edwards, Mann and Gill were there in full glory, exhorting and cheering on their new mayoral hero. So much for police being politically impartial.

Then there was the curious case of public mischief brought against the Mayor, of which he was acquitted, much to the Mountie chagrin. What was curious about the case was that McCallum made a complaint of assault, and within a few days, he himself was charged with public mischief. The whole case should never have gone forward, but that aside, there is something highly suspicious about the Mounties bringing charges against McCallum in the first place, and in such a quick turnaround. Now, with little doubt, the City will also have to pick up McCallum’s very pricey legal bills.

There is also a ground level war going on between the Mounties and those that wish to replace them. The Mountie union for their part, will also be sending a report to the government with their view of the situation. The NPF spokesman, Ryan Buhrig, made an interesting comment to the press, in that he stated that seven of the fourteen “shifts” were currently “below minimum staffing levels”. Is this to blame on the transition, or is he admitting that the RCMP is currently not able to meet the contract needs? There is little doubt that these shifts were “below minimum” long before the Surrey Police Service came into existence.

I have by now heard from uniform officers from both sides. The RCMP officers I have spoken with make no bones about the fact that they don’t like the SPS officers, and the SPS officers in turn have complained about the brutal way they have been treated. Safe to say, the situation, morale wise is not good. I heard on high authority that the government at one time seriously considered making a formal complaint to the Public Complaints commission about the actions of some of the RCMP top management in their efforts to block the SPS. Their brief consideration was that the level of obstruction amounted to a form of “corruption”. They did not follow up for obvious political reasons.

If one wants to judge what the best course of action would be, there is a clear need to step back from the infantile actions of the politicians and senior police managers. One needs to look at this from the practical viewpoint and step away from the misinformation campaigns and the biased and often ignorant rhetoric. Let’s even forget about the monies spent, the monies about to be spent, or the monies about to be lost. The most basic decision and central question is whether or not the RCMP are even still capable of municipal and contract policing.

In the rest of the country, in academic circles, and even in the Federal RCMP rarefied air of Ottawa there is a very different dialogue going on. If contract policing is the dike then the holes in the dike, the holes in the organizational structure, are becoming increasingly apparent and they are numerous. The solution that is being discussed, proffered and debated is whether or not the time has come to let the dike break and in effect let the RCMP to get out of “contract policing”.

The most recent example is in an essay by Kevin Lynch and Jim Mitchell. Lynch is a former clerk of the Privy Council Office, and is now with BMO Financial; Mitchell is an adjunct professor at Carleton University. The paper got the attention of the Globe and Mail and is adding to the further discussion of this possibility. In the paper they argue that the problems of the RCMP are large in scope and that “they are inherently structural, requiring fundamental change to re-shape”. The Mountie “jumble of accountabilities” is supported by an “organizational model that fails them” and that they are “poorly positioned to discharge their responsibilities”.

Of course this is just the latest, in 2007 the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, stated that there was a requirement for a “much higher degree of managerial competence and sophistication than that which is currently found in the RCMP”. The Bastarache report said that the “culture is toxic, misogynistic, and homophobic”. In July 2022 an all party committee of the BC Legislature was tasked with reviewing the Police Act for the Province, stated that “we need to end contract policing”. In an associated poll, 39% of the people agreed with replacing the RCMP, 38% opposed and 23% were undecided.

Further along this year we have witnessed the Portapique inquiry, which showed that the managers of H Division, at the senior levels were in-fighting with their municipal agencies. Lynch and Mitchell also believed that the Emergencies Act inquiry in the end “portrays an indecisive federal police force”. It demonstrated that the very top of the organization is fraught with miscommunication and that they have become a fully integrated “political” police force, more interested in playing the political game than the operational game. Again, none of these latest revelations are good and the tarnish is not going to wear off soon.

On a lower level, when it comes to the more basic issues and the ability to staff their contracts, I am being told that the Federal positions in British Columbia are now almost 50% vacant, while the other Provincial units are approaching 30% vacancy rates. There is a lack of recruitment and the RCMP is now having trouble enticing anyone to a career and therefore an inability to staff positions. This is not new, this organization has been failing in this regard for many many years. As a result ideas are being floated in British Columbia, Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan for leaving the RCMP contracts altogether.

The Eby government has now had to provide an additional $230 million to the RCMP to assist in “fully staffing” rural policing as part of his “Safer Communities Act Plan”. This would seem to go to the very heart of the issue of not being able to fulfill the current contract.

It is also impossible to argue that the RCMP is any “cheaper” than a municipal police force, as it is a myth that the 10% discount given to the RCMP is a game changer. This is wholly swallowed up with the extra manpower demands which come about due to Federal commitments at a cost to the municipal and provincial policing needs.

There is historic irony. The British Columbia Provincial Police were disbanded on August 15, 1950, a move that was made for two primary reasons. One, was the hope that by doing so, if they brought in the RCMP they wouldn’t unionize; and secondly, they wanted to put a better fight against Communism. It would seem that on both of those issues the fight is over.

The current structure of the RCMP is damaged, in need of severe repairs. As a retired RCMP who preferred contract and the criminal work over the Federal, it is indeed bittersweet to watch the current machinations in Surrey. It is difficult to watch the demise of the RCMP in its present form, but if you don’t think it is happening you are not watching. The organization will not disappear, but I suspect we will not recognize it 20 years from now. It was good while it lasted, but policing is evolving, the past is the past and evolution is necessary to keep up with the quickly changing times. In Surrey, there is a futile attempt underway to argue that all would be good if one were to return to the RCMP. But it is a dishonest argument.

Who knows or would even dare to guess where this group of politicians will lead us. If the government gives in to the misguided sentiment of Brenda Locke and her cohorts, the only known thing for sure that the Surrey taxpayers are going to be on the hook for a rather imposing tax bill. All to return to an organization whose time is now completely taken up in plugging the holes, trying to hold back the flood waters against structural and inevitable change.

Photo by bertknot Courtesy of Flickr Commons – Some rights Reserved

Merry X!

This is just a brief note to wish you and your families well during this festive period.

To call these times “unusual” seems rather quaint and old-fashioned.

If you are like me, you are simply getting tired and this is as good a time as any to rest. You are likely not tired from the normal activities of life, so much as tired of all the bombarding politicians, the well intending but over-exposed epidemiologists, and all those clairvoyants predicting armageddon or a “new normal”. The constant references to “standing with you in these trying times” truly rankles the now over exposed nerves.

I am sapped of any strength to argue over such things as personal rights versus the public good, or where all the rules, regulations and unenforceable guidelines are going to eventually take us.

So this seems like a logical time to take a pause; a time to re-order our respective universes and measure what is truly valuable. A time to hopefully regain our once rational and common sense perspective. We will have lots of time in the coming months to wind up the rants– after all, the possibilities are endless.

For example. Will Surrey Doug McCallum be granted visitor rights from the Surrey pre-trial centre? Will Covid numbers be the new entertainment, a ticker tape playing over the intersection of Yonge, Bloor and Bay streets; or will you be able to lay down some money over Betway as to the next day’s hospitalizations? Will Toronto do away with Covid restrictions because the Leafs finally get past the first round of the playoffs? After all, they did it for the Blue Jays.

Will the Liberal Party become the Liberal Social Democratic Party of Canada? Will we remember the name of the Conservative Leader in 2022? Will the Green Party finally go quietly into the night? Will Chrystia Freeland survive being Finance Minister and the billions in debt to give her time to arm wrestle the Crown from Justin?

Will the Federal government workers ever go back to work? Will we know if they do?

Can another letter be found to add to the LGBTQIA2S+?

Will the disembowelled Military executive have anybody left to head the next Covid 20 or Covid 21 Operation? No doubt to be titled Operation Here we Go Again.

Will Commissioner Lucki do the expected and predictable and retire to a plushy post with Interpol or some similar benign agency? Will anybody notice if she is missing? Can she please take Bill Blair with her?

Will Cameron Ortis, a genuine black hat in the world of spy versus spy be convicted? If he is, will we ever know?

But I digress.

I started this blog in 2017, and about a hundred thousand words later I continue to be encouraged by you and to continue to work on the craft. There are clearly some blogs which hit an exposed nerve and garner a lot of attention, rewarding in its unpredictability.

I continue to look forward to the comments and am still surprised by the people taking the time to write and offer up their well thought out opinions. Personally, I have connected and re-connected to people across the country and a few around the world.

I try and improve the style and content with every publication but like most people who make an attempt to write, I am usually never totally satisfied. Thomas Mann said “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”.

My fragile ego aside, to those who read and follow along, I offer a heart felt thank-you and this season’s best wishes.

We will see you on the flip side.

The North Pole as photographed by the Mars Express via Flickr Commons by Justin Cowart – Some Rights Reserved

Start taking down the tents…

For some time now, there has been a large tent set up at 134th and 104th Ave– Surrey City hall.

The tempest under the tent is about the nascent Surrey Police Service and it brings to mind the three rings of Barnum & Bailey. Jugglers, hire wire acts, trumpeting elephants, and clown cars all featured as part of what makes up Surrey civic politics.

This show under the big top has been going on for awhile now, it was 2018 when Mayor McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition were voted in, under two main election promises; cancel the contract with the RCMP and secondly the further extension of the skytrain. At the end of this month, the new SPS is to actually begin patrols, in coalition with the RCMP, as this plodding along transition carries on. Many are predicting disharmony, resentment, and at the very best an awkward moment or two. 

The transition process has met with infighting, personal barbs and innuendo, even allegations of assault and intimidation have been echoing off the walls of the city council chambers. In the last few weeks it seems to have reached a crescendo of inanity and misinformation. Those of us who once policed this burgeoning municipality of five police districts were often want to say in those days “only in Surrey!” This disparate community has always seemed willing to defy the expected norms of a civil society. 

A multi-cultural community of distinct areas, a diverse populace of haves and have-nots, abject poverty and street level violence versus one acre mansions of multi-million dollar homes. Whites, south east Asians, blacks, all forming up in their distinct neighbourhoods of Cloverdale, Newton, Whalley, South Surrey, and Fleetwood. 

It should not be assumed that they are living in harmony. In the nineties we patrolled the high schools which were even then being inundated by racist fights between south east asians and caucasians, each group not allowed to enter into the school property of the other. This is to say that there is nothing singular or cohesive about Surrey and there never has been an honest discussion of the many problems which afflict it. 

It is a unique area to police and it is where an eye for an eye tooth for a tooth mentality is visceral.  Often police officers having worked in Surrey have seen it as a badge of courage having once survived the posting and then moved on. And they almost always move on. 

So who are the people in this three ring circus, all vying to drive the clown car?

On the one side is the irascible Mayor McCallum, a curmudgeon, smug, wily, and of long standing. Mr. McCallum has never liked the RCMP, and vice versa. The animosity has always been well known but never publicly stated. This uncomfortable relationship is now coming to a head as the exasperation builds on the part of the Mounties who are about to be booted out and those seeing themselves as pioneering a new police model for the city. Ironically, the people sweeping the place with a clean broom are actually hiring a bunch of ex-Mounties to lead and aid in the takeover.

On the other side is a group of disgruntled and pushed from power politicians, a new union head for the RCMP, and the media who doesn’t like McCallum who continually refuses to be party to their reporting. 

Neither side ever reach a point where the real issues could be debated. Both sides continually throwing up illogic and misstatement as their campaigns wage war, and it has reached the stage of the whole exercise being a bad punch line. 

The current opposition to the quickly advancing police service is made up primarily of three groups; the National Police Federation with self-appointed constant spokesperson Brian Sauve; the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group and those behind the highly publicized petition entitled “Surrey Police Vote”. 

These groups in turn have the political support of the likes of Linda Annis, Brenda Locke, and Jack Hundial. All three of these politicians have a particular political axe to grind. Annis, was the sole politician who survived the purge of the once in control Surrey First group started by Diane Watts. Her antipathy to McCallum has reached a very personal level. 

Brenda Locke is also a long standing Liberal, once a Provincial Cabinet Minister and MLA , she too now thwarted by a largely Provincial NDP stronghold in Surrey. Also ironically she, along with Jack Hundial got elected on the coattails and under the banner of Mayor McCallum and the Safe Surrey Coalition who proclaimed the need for a separate police service. Clearly, since then there was a falling out with the mayor and she and Mr Hundial left the civic party and became independents. 

Jack Hundial was a police officer with Surrey for 25 years. When McCallum announced the people he had picked for the tripartite transition team, Mr. Hundial found himself left out, out in the cold despite his Surrey policing background. Since that time he has been an outspoken critic of the motion to form a city force even though he, Locke, Annis, and Steven Pettigrew had all originally voted for it. 

Knowing Mr. Hundial personally, I was somewhat taken aback at this reversal and his current support of the RCMP after having had many conversations with him about the dysfunctions of the Federal Force which had nursed him and now provides him with a pension. Politics clearly does make strange bedfellows.

All the parties explain their reversal in support because of the “secrecy” they allege about the transition, and the hidden costs they believe are forthcoming. They extoll the fact that the Fed’s subsidize the Mounties to the tune of 10% each year– therefore in theory they are correct, they are likely always going to be a cheaper alternative. The transition costs they allege are skyrocketing and is a harbinger of dangerous over-spending to come. 

The current transition costs are estimated to be at $63 million, going up since 2019 when they were estimated to be $45 million. What the councillors don’t often say is that is the estimate is spread over the next five years. Surrey’s current overall budget to offer some perspective, is $1.2 billion with its 600,000 residents., and this year Surrey will be borrowing about $150 million to meet those expenses. The councillors often rant about the costs of transitioning all these officers, but usually do not mention that the vehicles, equipment and station buildings are already owned by the City of Surrey. 

The NPF has been quite vocal and has been spending the union dues of their RCMP members to fight against the transition. They often pretend it is an issue of defending their members. They bought and paid for ads, lawn signs, and polls to firm up their position. They continually quote that “84 % “ of Surrey residents have a “favourable impression” of the RCMP and that “76%” say the transition should be “halted”. 

The Surrey Safe Coalition headed by MaCallum show their own polling and say that their polls indicate people that only 6% of the Surrey residents prefer keeping the RCMP and their “cardboard cutouts”. 

How does one get such disparate polling results. Its all in the questions you ask. Neither poll from either side should be seen as anything more than political posturing. 

The NPF has clearly got a reason to fight the situation. They do not want to lose the largest RCMP detachment in Canada and they are clearly worried about these thoughts of policing independent from the Federal force as a possible trend. (Alberta has recently talked about getting rid of the RCMP—and there is a great deal of conjecture that if Surrey falls, there will be renewed consideration for a Lower Mainland Regional Police service –or some version of it). It should also be noted that the new SPS will also be unionized under CUPE. For them, this is a union fight.

So this assembled group of dissenters then added a couple more tactics to their arsenal by introducing a petition to call for a referendum in Surrey utilizing the Referendum Act which flows from Elections B.C.  Those that follow this kind of thing would shake their head a bit at this, as it is a momentous task to force a referendum; wherein one is required to obtain 10% of voter support in all the ridings throughout B.C. 

 Do the people of Castlegar, or Radium, concern themselves with the Surrey police issue? Highly unlikely one would think.

The petition went ahead in any event, entitled the Surrey Police Vote, and it was primarily fronted by the Keep the Police in Surrey group. (Interestingly, this group bragged about raising $10,000.00 for their cause but would not comment how much money came from the NPF)

Somewhere in the process, once they realized that this could never be pulled off Province wide, the group concerned itself with only going after Surrey residents on their petition. 

They enlisted Darlene Bennett to head the Committee and Eileen Mohan to be a spokesperson. Both of whom will be remembered as being victims of violence themselves. Darlene’s husband Paul was killed mistakenly in his driveway (still unsolved) and Eileen’s son was killed in the infamous Surrey 6 file. Both horrendous cases, both generating unspoken grief.

However the arguments for retaining the RCMP by these two women although emotional, lacked specifics and quite frankly make little sense. Definitely nothing that could contribute to the debate. Being a victim of crime unfortunately does not necessarily translate into knowing about policing issues. However this group felt that by exploiting their personal agonies it would draw out the petition signers. Quite frankly it was manipulative and crass.  

Nevertheless, the petitioners, in a November 15 press conference, publicly proclaimed that they “did it” and held up a sign saying they had raised 42,000 signatures, representing about 13% of the population. 

When asked why they think this would succeed, as clearly it did not meet the referendum guidelines, they prevaricate, and dubiously argue that they are asking that the Provincial government to take into consideration the results regardless of it not meeting the current criteria. They are asking that the Provincial government in effect reconsider and change their rules. 

During the search for signatories the rhetoric and nonsense escalated. The group argued that they were being harassed by Bylaw enforcement and that they were being victimized by he slow turnaround at Elections B.C. Paul Daynes of Keep the RCMP in Surrey called McCallum a “little tinpot fascist dictator”.  McCallum in turn banned seven members of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group from the city council meetings.

Then there was “Toe Gate” on September 4th.  In the normally placid South Surrey enclave of the well off, McCallum confronted some petitioners who were using the Save On Foods parking lot as a place to rally the troops. A verbal argument ensued between one of the petition organizers, Ivan Scott, who was sitting in his car, and McCallum who was standing outside it. After going back and forth and Scott demanding McCallum resign, Scott drove off, and McCallum argued turned the car in such a way as to hit him in the hip and drive over his toe. McCallum contacted the police and made allegations of assault. 

The RCMP somewhat surprisingly, within a week then swore out a search warrant for CTV video footage of the interview of McCallum, under the auspices of a possible public mischief charge, clearly implying they did not believe McCallum. Having worked in Surrey for many years, public mischief is not usually a first step, so there is good reason to believe that this too is politically motivated. As a result, the Provincial government has had to hire a Special Prosecutor to look into it. We are still awaiting that judgement and the Keep the Police Surrey movement needless to say is hoping to see McCallum led off in handcuffs. It seems unlikely.

Where is Commissioner Lucki in all this? Should we assume she is under some sort of gag order from the Liberals? 

However, the comment about the “cardboard cutout” mounties stirred the harnessed wrath of Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, head of the Surrey RCMP, who called the remark a “deliberate attempt to undermine public safety”. That the tweet was “disrespectful” by “ending public confidence in policing at the current time”.  Really? 

The coalition group responded “in spite of the efforts of a bitter minority surely the indignation that he has voiced today equally applies to these groups organized efforts to de-stabilize and de-moralize our city’s incoming police force”.

And where is the Provincial NDP government in all this? Well they are busy reviewing the overall structure of the police in B.C., by examining the structure of the Police Act to: “examine systemic racism and modernize laws in alignment with UNDRIP (the U.N declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)”.  

To sum the issues up which are facing Surrey residents is in fact quite easy. Do the citizens of Surrey wish to have a more accountable police department? If so, how much are they willing to pay for it? There is no doubt among the current officers of Surrey detachment that the RCMP, in its many and varied forms is suffering—at every level. 

Would or should the cost savings mean more to Surrey residents than being subservient to Ottawa and susceptible to the vagaries of Federal policies–which seem more intent on gender identification than the property crime rates in Whalley? 

No need to worry about the officers in Surrey. They will be just fine, they will move on to other details, other detachments and other policing challenges; and Ottawa might finally get the message of growing discontent and the need to reform.

The citizens of Surrey clearly voiced their opinion once before and decided to elect McCallum and his platform.

It is clearly time to undo the tent pegs and bring down the circus tent.

Time to move on.  

Photo courtesy of Steve Parker via Flickr Creative Commons – Some rights Reserved