Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Lawyer says RCMP bullying claims in Surrey policing case could cause 'undue' concern

The B.C. RCMP divisional headquarters is seen in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. A lawyer for the B.C. government says court documents in its policing dispute with the City of Surrey contain "significant" allegations of harassment and bullying against the Surrey RCMP. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

VANCOUVER — A B.C. government lawyer says court documents in a policing dispute with the City of Surrey contain significant allegations of harassment and bullying by the RCMP that should be kept from public view because they could cause "undue public concern."

Trevor Bant was speaking at the start of a hearing on Surrey's petition challenging a direction by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth that the city transition from the RCMP to the municipal Surrey Police Service.

Surrey claims the province overstepped its authority by ordering the transition, after a prolonged public dispute over the future of policing in the city.

Bant told Justice Kevin Loo on Monday that the material they want heavily redacted includes a list of "very specific incidents" alleged by the head of the Surrey Police Union in a letter outlining "some concerns about RCMP behaviour."

He said there were incidents that include detail about Surrey residents, police officers, locations and police file numbers related to "a series of descriptions of alleged occurrences on shift when SPS and RCMP officers started working together." 

"It's just at a level of detail and specificity about specific police operations that … raise some public safety concern," Bant said. 

Loo said "almost every case" before the courts involving police officers includes materials about policing, asking Bant why the materials are "special" and need to be left out of the public record. 

"None of this has any relevance at all" to what the court would hear, Bant said.

He said there was a "long list of bullying and harassment incidents" they propose to redact from the publicly available court records. 

"The allegation being made by the SPS is that RCMP officers have acted inappropriately," he said. "The concern with this really is one of, candidly, undue public alarm in the state of affairs in the Surrey RCMP detachment. The allegations here are really very critical of RCMP behaviour."

He said the RCMP was not a party to the case and could not respond. 

"A member of the public reading these very detailed allegations of significant harassment and bullying by police officers without fuller context, without a response from the RCMP, there's a potential for some undue public concern about the state of affairs at the Surrey RCMP detachment," he said. 

Public safety in Surrey relied on the two forces working together at the moment, he said, and allowing the allegations to become public would be "a risk of some alarm here." 

Bant also said some filings contain police staffing and operational details that could be misused, such as specific numbers of police vehicles. 

Surrey's lawyer, Craig Dennis, told the court the "city is not seeking to seal or withhold any information in this proceeding." 

Dennis said the minister was also trying to withhold information that was before the minister when he decided to force the city to transition to a municipal force. 

Loo said he'd rule on the redactions on Tuesday. 

The city claims the provincial government lacks lawful authority to order the transition from the RCMP without providing adequate resources to complete it. 

Dennis said the province essentially told the city to "figure it out" on its own when ordering the transition, initially committing to help with an injection of $150 million, which was later withdrawn. 

"That $150 million is now zero," Dennis said. 

Dennis told the court that Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and Premier David Eby had agreed to "find a way through this." 

Locke and other city officials attended the hearing, but she declined to comment.

"The city lived up to its end of the bargain, the minister pulled the rug out from under it," he said. "The minister had other ideas." 

Dennis said the law is "crystal clear" that the city is in charge of policing decisions and that the community charter calls on leaders from different levels of government to resolve disputes through consultation and co-operation. 

He said Locke ran on a platform of keeping the RCMP in Surrey and was voted in with a "sufficiently clear mandate" that the province took actions that nullify that mandate in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Loo asked Dennis if he was raising a "novel point of law" or seeking to expand the reach of the Charter in pursuit of his case, because there were no other cases that engage the section of the Charter "exactly" the same way. 

Dennis said he wanted the Charter to be applied to a "new set of circumstances," and took Loo through a submission from a Surrey resident who had voted to keep the RCMP by supporting Locke in the 2022 election, equating the vote to an exercise of Charter-protected freedom of expression. 

Later, the court heard from Brian Duong, another member of the city's legal team, who outlined the history of policing agreements in the city, and the bureaucratic steps that led up to the legal dispute with the province. 

Duong said there's "never been an actual plan in place" to handle the transition to the Surrey Police Service, and reports and committees underestimated how long a transition would take and how much it would cost. 

The city's financial plan from 2020 to 2024 contemplated escalating policing costs each year in Surrey, jumping from $175 million in 2020 to $217.5 million by 2024. 

"It's some 35 to 40 per cent of the total operating budget for the city, and this is why it matters so much to the city that the SPS is projected to be $75 million more per year, more expensive than the RCMP, and why again it matters so much that whether any imposed transition has sufficient provincial funding support," Duong said. 

The hearings are scheduled to conclude Friday. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.

Darryl Greer, The Canadian Press