Widow of murdered Surrey man calls for referendum on city's proposed police service

·3 min read
Darlene Bennett said she filed an application with Elections BC seeking a binding referendum vote on whether the Surrey Police Service should replace the Surrey RCMP. This photo shows a mock-up of a Surrey city police vehicle in 2019. (CBC - image credit)
Darlene Bennett said she filed an application with Elections BC seeking a binding referendum vote on whether the Surrey Police Service should replace the Surrey RCMP. This photo shows a mock-up of a Surrey city police vehicle in 2019. (CBC - image credit)

The widow of man killed in Surrey in 2018 is urging other residents to voice their opinion on whether they would like to keep the Surrey RCMP or transition to a municipal Surrey Police Service.

Darlene Bennett, whose late husband, Paul, was killed in front of his Cloverdale house in what police believe was a case of mistaken identity, filed an application with Elections BC on Wednesday seeking a binding referendum vote.

She also started a citizen initiative called the Surrey Police Vote campaign to collect signatures and spread the message.

"We've never been given the true facts," Bennett said on the CBC's On the Coast. "We never had transparency or the true costs of what this is actually going to cost us."

Paul Bennett was shot and killed June 23, 2018 in Surrey, B.C. His case remains unsolved.
Paul Bennett was shot and killed June 23, 2018 in Surrey, B.C. His case remains unsolved. (Facebook)

The union that represents Canada's 20,000 RCMP officers called for a referendum more than a year ago.

National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé said in February 2020 that his group had commissioned a poll that suggested more than 80 per cent of Surrey residents wanted to put the issue to a vote.

A petition with more than 40,000 signatures in support of keeping the RCMP in Surrey was presented to the B.C. government earlier last year.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has said previously that he campaigned on creating Surrey's own police department and that voters gave him the mandate to carry out the transition in 2018 when they elected him.

If a referendum were to take place, Bennett said she believes Surrey residents would vote to retain the RCMP as the city's police force and stop the transition from continuing.

She said because the cost of the transition continues to increase, there aren't any new ice rinks or community centres being built and for the past three years the city's RCMP has stopped recruiting new officers.

"We didn't know that we were going to be giving up everything to pay for this," she said. "Our roads aren't even being repaired. I don't think people signed up for that."

Surrey mayor Doug McCallum has said in the past that the actual referendum was the last municipal election when he promised to bring in a Surrey police force. He is pictured near a Surrey Police vehicle during his state of the city address on May 7, 2019.
Surrey mayor Doug McCallum has said in the past that the actual referendum was the last municipal election when he promised to bring in a Surrey police force. He is pictured near a Surrey Police vehicle during his state of the city address on May 7, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Bennett said she attended the budget meeting in 2019 and wrote a letter to the board last summer asking for more information, but it took eight months to get a reply and then only in a tweet.

"I just want to be informed. I'm not an unreasonable person and I want to know what's happening," Bennett said. "I feel like the door has been shut in my face."

Due to the pandemic, the Surrey Police Vote campaign will start by recruiting canvassers and supporters remotely through social media, email and the campaign's website. She plans to gather more signatures and host safe in-person signing events when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

"We have been waiting for months to safely launch this campaign, and with more and more vaccines in sight and increasing controversy around the policing transition costs and implementation, I believe the time is now. I trust the RCMP and do not want Paul's case compromised, or any reduction in public safety. I am absolutely committed to giving Surrey taxpayers a voice," she said.

"Whether you support retaining the RCMP, as I do, or want the proposed Surrey Police Service, I believe everyone should have a vote on the final decision."

LISTEN | Darlene Bennett talks about the Surrey Police Service referendum on the CBC's On the Coast: