By Jeff Shantz
In their song Won’t Get Fooled Again, rock band the Who called out the famous line, “Meet the new boss / same as the old boss.”
Residents of Surrey might be excused for feeling that this aptly describes the leadership of the city’s new municipal police force, which has been drawn from the ranks of the “old boss”, the RCMP.
On November 19, 2020, it was announced that the police board had tabbed Norm Lipinski to be the first chief of the city's new force. Lipinski was most recently the deputy chief of the Delta Police Department and before that spent years with the Edmonton Police Service before becoming assistant commissioner with the RCMP’s E Division (British Columbia).
Next, in early January of this year, Supt. Jennifer Hyland, officer in charge of Ridge Meadows RCMP, was announced as the first of three deputy chief constables hired to the Surrey Police Service (SPS). Hyland’s first day in the position was January 25. Then came RCMP assistant commissioner Mike LeSage—who currently serves as chief officer of the province’s anti-gang Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit B.C.—as the second deputy chief constable.
With the enormous expense associated with the transition to a municipal force and Surrey mayor Doug McCallum’s election promise of a new model of policing rooted in the specific conditions of life in Surrey, many are asking what all of this is accomplishing. Even more, the new hires come with some baggage and a bit of controversy of their own.
Old baggage and new uestions
Lipinski’s comments regarding RCMP officer Monty Robinson, who was involved in two high-profile killings, previously raised eyebrows. Then-RCMP assistant commissioner Lipinski said: “He won’t be fired outright, now that he's a convicted criminal, because he's still entitled to due process as a police officer under the RCMP Act.” This raised concerns at the time and is little comfort for people concerned about accountability in cases of police violence.
Under Lipinski’s term in Delta, two Delta Police officers were disciplined following a five-month-long investigation into a complaint of workplace and sexual harassment. It is an issue that has gained more attention recently, particularly in the RCMP context.
Lipinski was embroiled in an ongoing controversy when civilian Kiran Sidhu was sprayed with a water hose by Lorraine Dubord, spouse of Delta police chief Neil Dubord, outside the couple’s house in June 2020. Dubord allegedly hurled personal insults at Ms. Sidhu. Police decided not to lay charges against Lorraine Dubord, and there was some concern about Lipinski’s role in that decision.
This week it came out that the Delta Police Department paid a communications-consulting firm $42,000 to publicly deal with the incident and accusations. It was further reported that Lepinski himself set up this contract.
Serious questions also come with new deputy chief constable Hyland, who, as RCMP superintendent, was the officer in charge of the Ridge Meadows RCMP when their officers shot and killed Kyaw Din in his home on August 11, 2019, while he was in distress and needed help,
The Din family has called for murder charges against the officer who shot Kyaw Din. They also called for superintendent Hyland to resign, and demanded police no longer respond to mental-health calls.
In an interview with the Surrey Now-Leader, Hyland explained that she will be responsible for support services. In her words: “Ultimately, my bureau is responsible for all things recruiting, all things with respect to the workplace and culture, all things leadership and training, the strategic plan and Canadian engagement, and so basically everything that builds the foundation and the structure of the police force is going to fall under my bureau.”
What might this mean, given all of the recent documentation of the long-standing toxic culture of bullying, harassment, and sexual violence within the RCMP and the recent statements by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Alberta RCMP deputy commissioner Curtis Zablocki claiming that there is no systemic racism in the RCMP?
Mike Lesage took over the antigang task force last February. He will join SPS this month as the officer in charge of Surrey’s community-policing bureau. This raises some questions about what community policing might look like and whether it will be driven by fear over gangs, which construct Surrey youth as budding gangsters ripe for targeted policing.
Community policing has long been a code name for targeted and intensified policing of neighbourhoods and communities, particularly against racialized people. The politically driven panic over gangs in Surrey has already involved the demonization of youth in the city and layered policing practices that extend police surveillance and control throughout day-to-day life in schools, youth groups, housing, and health care. Will the new force be more of the same?
Others have raised questions about the “rooted in Surrey” claims that the mayor and his slate made such a big deal about. Critics have pointed out that despite promises of a force grounded in Surrey and living the city’s day-to-day realities, none of the force’s leadership hires actually live in Surrey, or even nearby. Hyland lives in Maple Ridge; Lipinski lives in Yaletown; and police-board members Elizabeth Model and Harley Chappell live in Burnaby and Chilliwack, respectively. The board’s executive director, Melissa Granum, lives in Ladner.
Getting fooled again?
For critics, the new Surrey Police Service is shaping up to look an awful lot like the Surrey RCMP force they are supposedly replacing. And this is happening with enormous costs attached. The budget for the policing transition opened at $129 million over five years. Already, increases to that number can be seen, with more on the horizon for the transition.
This week it was reported that B.C.'s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner told a provincial select standing committee on finance and government services that it requires an additional $1.4 million this year in order to hire and train analysts to deal with an “anticipated volume” of new complaints related to the Surrey Police Service.
None of this addresses concerns over the nature of policing and its role in maintaining structures of social inequality, especially racism and colonialism. Such issues have been at the forefront of movements to defund and abolish police, which have grown with protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year. This has included local movements and groups such as Anti-Police Power Surrey and the newly formed Defund 604 Network.
If anything, the new Surrey force represents a massive refunding of police. Defund movements would argue that getting rid of the RCMP in Surrey was a good step. But replacing them with a new more expensive force is yet another example of public money going into policing and not community-based forms of care and social well-being. We might well ask whether we are, indeed, getting fooled again.