Are Surrey Taxpayers Being Muzzled?

City of Surrey Staff have been spotted taking down the “Keep the RCMP signs” from the front of people’s property. There are many schools of thought on this. Technically, as many properties have City of Surrey easement and Right of Ways registered on title, the staff are within their rights to removed anything on that right-of-way.

They have also been accused of removing the signs from people’s personal property. Again technically, the signs could be interpreted as a violation of the city’s sign bylaw. So technically the city may be within its rights to remove the signs but morally, are they doing themselves and the taxpayers a service by attempting to quash what is an obviously growing movement.

It is becoming more and more apparent that a growing number of taxpayers in the City of Surrey are against the Mayor’s plan to transition from the RCMP to a city police force. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Some believe that the RCMP are the better choice in policing, ignoring or overlooking the problems which seem to be systemic in the way some RCMP transactions have gone down.

Most agree that there needs to be better local accountability and there is a growing movement toward funding the police in a different way and using some funds to give police better support in dealing with addiction, poverty related crime, homelessness and mental illness.

Some believe that city police are going to be better. When asked why, the only answer that I have gotten is “better accountability” but when pressed for a clearer understanding of how that accountability will work, I am told “police board” which in theory could work but under the RCMP, we also have the ability to have a police board so I find myself back where I started.

What is not disputed is the fact that this will cost taxpayers a significant amount of money.

What is also not disputed is that with COVID 19, many taxpayers in the city are struggling to survive and any future financial plan from the city needs to take that into account. Many in the city think that the transition is possible but that it should include taxpayer input, be done over a longer period of time allowing for an easier financial transition and there should be more transparency on the project.

The issue is trust.

We have lost trust in our some of our elected officials because we feel our voices are not being heard or considered. Some would say we have lost faith in some of our police forces, both city and RCMP because of things we see on social media. And yes, many posts about how good the police are, and heart-warming stories also exist out there, but the majority of people are watching the world, the protests and the issues and extrapolating them into life here in Surrey.

However it must be pointed out that the RCMP have received 80% plus support in the polls. The petition to keep the RCMP is over 45,000 names and counting which is more than the number of votes that put the Mayor in power.

It is true that this was their platform but it could be argued that it was a symbolic vote without all the necessary information. I think most agree that the process has been flawed – there has never been a corporate report nor has there been a feasibility study, even though Wally Oppal recommended one. Those studies are important in determining the best steps for moving forward.

So, we have many issues and a lot of shouting voices, but the question is this…

Are taxpayers being muzzled? Some have said that taxpayers are trying to “redo the election” and that it is refreshing to see politicians “keeping their word” when it comes to campaign promises. Others are saying that decisions made regarding taxpayers’ dollars should include the voices of all the taxpayers and not just those who voted for your party.

They are demanding a “fair system” where their voices aren’t targeted and shut down at council meetings. They want the Mayor and his four councillors to play by Robert’s Rules of Order and not run roughshod over legitimate motions put out by those elected councillors not on his personal cheering team.

Taxpayers want a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

And so, the “Keep the RCMP” movement grows, and more and more signs are going up. Some have erected signs simply to demonstrate their right to free expression and without a real heart in the fight. They believe that if taxpayers voices are being ignored then they should join the fight for the right to put up a sign and demonstrate in a real way that they will not be silenced. Others firmly believe that the RCMP belong in Surrey and they will continue to put up signs, regardless of how many are taken down.

Some hang the signs from their chimney and dare city employees to step on their property. One woman has her sign right on the easement line and a pressurized water hose at the ready, for anyone that dares to touch it. She claims it is to water her roses with, but the water pressure will take the paint of sidewalk, so I am not so sure.

The question is one of fairness. City workers have been caught on camera removing only the “Keep the RCMP” signs but ignoring all the other signs in the neighbourhood that also contravene the sign bylaw, so it is obvious that this is the only group being targeted.

Again, this is an issue of fairness. The fact is that many signs contravene the city bylaws and for the most part they are ignored. Even one city of Surrey councillor has signs which appear to contravene the city bylaw, on city easement and city property advertising his business. This is walking distance from where taxpayer’s Keep the RCMP signs were removed. Why aren’t his signs taken down?

Regardless of where you stand on the argument, people want equitable treatment with regards to signs. And taxpayers will find a way to be heard. Especially as they are getting their property tax bills in the mail and currently seeing an increase in property taxes with a noticeable decrease in services.

With swimming pools and civic centres all closed, funding for the arts dried up, and parks closed, even non-political people are questioning the need to spend so much money on a police transition when there are so many other needs in the city. I believe that taxpayers have a right to put up their signs and express their opinion. They should have been able to be heard by their elected officials, but they were shut down.

They should have gotten responses to their letters to their elected municipal officials but only a few responded. They should have been heard by the provincial officials but their silence on this issue has been deafening. While some have responded and some have made public statements, most have tiptoed whistling, away from the issue.

Taxpayers have legitimate questions about cost and the direct effect it will have on their family finances and those questions deserve an answer. Taxpayers want to be part of a process that will affect how crime in their neighbourhood is handled and what kind of model policing will take.

They want to know where the new police will come from and who will train them. They want the ability to speak into the process and participate in discussions about how things are done. They want the transition, if done, to be done in a way that doesn’t put the public at risk.

Taxpayers want their voices to be heard. On both sides of this fence, taxpayers need to be part of the process and not have one decision shoved down their throats while the other side laughs. Nor should the voices of those who want city police be shouted down by those against. Proper, respectful, informed discussion needs to take place with both sides listening with listening ears to what the other has to say.

Until this happens, we will continue to see chaos and dysfunction at the council level. We will continue to have taxpayers flooding the mailrooms of elected officials, municipally, federally and provincially and we will continue to see signs going up all over Surrey that say, “Keep the RCMP”.

It would be wise for the Mayor to allow taxpayers their signs. This isn’t going to go away. Their voices are becoming louder and stronger and it would be wise for every elected official, on all levels to figure out which side of the fence they are on and quickly because the time for accountability has come.

Let your voice be heard. Write a short, informed, respectful letter to your elected officials and give them your reasons for what you think. This is your money and your city. It doesn’t belong to outsiders, special interest groups or politicians. It belongs to you.






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