Surrey Mayor accused of censoring data on public response to his plan to switch from RCMP to municipal police

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s decision to withhold data about public opinion on the B.C. city’s plans to switch to a municipal police force from the RCMP has prompted two city councillors to demand that no further decisions on the move be made until the feedback information is released. Councillor Jack Hundial said Monday he has seen the raw data produced by 23 city-run public engagement sessions that took place last spring, garnering responses from more than 11,000 residents in the Vancouver suburb. Mr. Hundial said he was barred from discussing the results because they’ve been deemed confidential. “Why are we hiding it? [B.C. Public Safety Minister] Mike Farnworth and [chair of the police transition team] Wally Oppal should see the results of the public engagement,” Mr. Hundial said. Story continues below advertisement He argued that Mr. McCallum needs to provide more information than just his general statement last June that the results supported the transition move in Surrey. Surrey residents are being censored and sidelined, added the councillor, because the mayor doesn’t want information made public that’s contrary to his agenda. “You can’t just shut it off when you don’t like what you’re hearing.” Surrey spokesman Oliver Lum said the city expects to be able to release the information in mid-January. The sparring over the transition has become more marked in recent weeks. A budget vote last week, which included millions of dollars for the transition plan, turned into a shouting match in council chambers as about 150 people from a group supporting the mayor and the switch to a municipal force showed up. Another group that opposes the transition held a rally outside. Story continues below advertisement Mr. McCallum campaigned on a clear-cut goal of getting rid of the RCMP force in Surrey, which has been there since 1951. He has said repeatedly that the RCMP are better suited for policing rural communities, not big cities like Surrey. Surrey is the largest city in Canada with an RCMP force, with Burnaby and Coquitlam among the next largest. The issue of policing has been a hot button in Surrey for years because of public concerns about crime and gangs. But, since the mayor was elected last October, there’s been a significant rise of opposition to his plans, partly because of the way he has gone about the process, critics such as Mr. Hundial say. “There are no clear lines about why we’re doing this,” said Mr. Hundial, one of three councillors who originally ran with Mr. McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition party and then left the party. Mr. McCallum still has a majority on council with four other councillors who continue to support him. Story continues below advertisement Councillor Brenda Locke backs Mr. Hundial’s concerns. Besides their opposition, a citizen group has formed to oppose the transition. It has now collected almost 37,000 signatures on a petition the group plans to send to the province, said spokesman Paul Daynes. Like Mr. Hundial, he is alarmed the city has never released detailed information about the public feedback from last spring. “It concerns us because of the secrecy.” Budget plans in November showed the city expects to spend $45-million for transition costs and another $84-million in additional operating costs related to police in the new force. That is draining the city of money for anything else, from new community-recreation spaces to arts and culture to parks, critics say. A representative from Wake Up Surrey, which supports the move to a municipal force, said most people agree with the transition, even though it will mean less money for other services for a few years, because Surrey desperately needs a new approach to crime prevention. “We need the police first, like you stop a leaking roof first, before other things,” Gurpreet Sahota said.

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