POLITICS

Squamish, B.C., agrees to new RCMP contract, bringing final holdout on board

06/29/2012 07:26 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT
SQUAMISH, B.C. - Every municipality in British Columbia that uses the RCMP as its local police force has now agreed to sign the latest contract, after Squamish, the final holdout, signalled Friday that it will be keeping the Mounties.

Squamish, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, was among several municipalities that had delayed signing the new, 20-year agreement over concerns about local control and added costs within the contract.

The District of Squamish issued a news release Friday that said while the community still has concerns, it will sign the deal.

The release suggested the district only agreed after the province informed it that not signing would cost the community $450,000 in lost funding. Under the contract, Squamish pays for 90 per cent of the cost of policing, while the federal government picking up the remaining 10 per cent.

"We will continue to work with Council, local residents, the provincial government and other municipalities to address our concerns with the policing contract," Mayor Rob Kirkham said in the news release.

"The safety and security of the people of Squamish is of paramount importance. We do not want to allow this process to place undue risk on our citizens."

B.C. and other provinces reached the agreement earlier this year, and British Columbia municipalities had until June 30 to sign on — a deadline that had been extended twice since April.

The agreement included a number of measures designed to give provinces and municipalities more control over how their local detachments spend money and operate, including greater say in the hiring of senior officers.

But those provisions weren't enough for some municipalities, who complained about wage increases contained in the contract and demanded even more control over RCMP officers in their communities.

Among Squamish's concerns were the costs associated with a new RCMP headquarters in Surrey, the costs for legal services and security costs for divisional and regional headquarters.

In May, municipal staff recommended councillors refuse to sign the contract unless those concerns were addressed, but it appears Squamish did not receive the concessions it demanded.

"The district was disappointed to have had so little input into a contract that commits our residents for 20 years," the district's news release says.

The loudest objections came from Burnaby, Richmond, Port Coquitlam and the city and district of North Vancouver. All of them eventually agreed to sign the contract, but they also joined together to launch a two-year study into whether the RCMP is worth keeping.

If they decide to ditch the force, they can trigger a two-year opt-out clause to get out of the contract. In that case, they would then have to either start their own police department, invite another municipal force to take over, or work with other cities to create a regional force.

Ladysmith was listed among the communities that hadn't agreed to the new contract, but the town announced Thursday that it will sign. Mayor Rob Hutchins explained the delay was related funding for a recently built RCMP detachment, and that issue had been sorted out.

Only 11 municipalities in B.C. have their own police force. The rest of the province is policed by the single-largest contingent of RCMP officers of any province.

Under the RCMP contract, small communities with fewer than 15,000 residents split the cost of policing with the federal government, with the municipality paying 70 per cent.

Larger cities pay 90 per cent.