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Mayor looks to election to address regional policing

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is seen on Dec. 7, 2012.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says it may take the looming provincial election to achieve consensus among mayors on the divisive issue of regional policing in the Lower Mainland.

Mr. Robertson's assertion Tuesday came as the city's police board embraced the recommendations of the recent inquiry into missing women, including one that strongly calls for a regional force to replace the varied municipal forces in the region.

Wally Oppal, who headed the inquiry, has said a regional force might have allowed for an investigation that possibly could have led to an earlier arrest of serial killer Robert Pickton, convicted in 2007 in the deaths of six women and sentenced to life imprisonment. Remains of 33 women were found on his Port Coquitlam farm. Mr. Oppal has said that the police investigation was hampered by a lack of co-ordination between the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department.

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But the regions two largest cities are divided over the issue. While Mr. Robertson is in favour of a regional force, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is opposed to replacing the RCMP, which currently polices the city.

"The B.C. election is an opportunity to break the logjam on creating a metro police force," Mr. Robertson told a news conference after the police-board meeting.

"It would be great to see candidates across the region for the legislature put their cards on the table and say whether they support having a regional police force. That would speak volumes to what's possible.

"Ultimately, it will be the next premier that is going to need to lead the charge with any dramatic changes on how we police the region."

The Premier said she was prepared to talk about it, but that mayors appear to be divided.

"There's a huge diversity of opinion amongst local mayors who foot the bill, the large part of the bill for policing in our province," Premier Christy Clark told reporters earlier Tuesday at an unrelated news conference.

"So I'm happy to have the conversation, but we need to somehow bridge the gap between those mayors who are passionately in favour and those mayors who are passionately opposed."

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Mr. Robertson said regional police would have "saved the lives" of missing and murdered women. "That alone is a very good reason to proceed to next steps. It's discouraging to hear resistance to exploring next steps. We owe it to those women and their families to take active steps to look at opportunities for a metro police force."

"I believe a metro police force will not only save lives, it will save money. It will be more efficient for the whole region, better integration of services."

Vancouver police chief Jim Chu said his counterparts across the region are as divided as mayors, but that he strongly supports a regional force. "It's more efficient and effective, and we believe there would be safer communities throughout our region if we had a regional police force."

Chief Chu said many communities like the policing status quo. "They like their no-call-too-small level of service. That's fine for low-level crime but when you deal with multijurisdictional problems then that co-ordination is the issue."

As the debate continues, mayors representing almost a quarter-million residents of the Lower Mainland are preparing for a meeting behind closed doors next week to learn more about the matter.

The mayors of Port Moody, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam have scheduled a Jan. 29 meeting on the issue.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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