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Burnaby to sign RCMP contract under duress: Corrigan

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan -
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan
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Burnaby is finally signing the new 20-year RCMP contract, but Mayor Derek Corrigan doesn't plan to let up on his criticism of the deal.

After all, Burnaby council had enough concerns about the contract it recently asked the province for a two-year extension to allow the city to study its options, including alternatives to an RCMP force.

In response, "we got a threatening letter from the minister," said Corrigan of Attorney  General Shirley Bond.

Bond was "threatening penalties," he said, and indicated cities that didn't sign would be non-compliant with the requirement to have a police force in the community. They would also have to bear additional costs for integrated police teams and the loss of the federal subsidy provided to RCMP detachments.

"There was potential that by refusing to sign, we could cost the taxpayer money which was never our intention." In fact, the whole reason for cities holding out was uncertainties over what the contract would cost taxpayers in the end, he said.

"I think the mayors pretty unanimously said, look, this is under protest," Corrigan said. "We're doing this simply beause of the threat not because we're in agreement."

Bond's letter indicated that if holdout cities wanted to study alternatives to the RCMP, they could do so and then use the contract's opt-out clause to give two years notice before changing to a different policing system, he noted, adding whether there will be consequences to that is yet to be determined.

"That's something municipalities are talking to the ministry about now, about whether or not there's any surprises that would come if we decide to opt out given the appropriate two years notice."

Unpleasant surprises is what the holdout has been all about.

From larger-than expected wage increases, to the possibility municipalities will have to pay for the new $1.2-million RCMP E Division headquarters being built in Surrey, continue to be outstanding issues.

Corrigan said the federal government arbitrarily decided the RCMP's wages would be the average of the three highest-paid police departments in Canada. When "the budget realities hit them, they said no" and only gave two per cent. In response, the RCMP sued and won. If the litigation continues to be successful, Ottawa has yet to decide whether cities will have to pay the cost of any retroactive wage increases that result.

"Those are the kind of time bombs that were left for us, that we have no idea when this additional cost could be sprung on us and when municipalities might have to come up with millions of dollars in backpay if they lose on appeal."

Burnaby will join North Vancouver City and Coquitlam in signing the contract, while a few remaining cities, including Richmond, Port Coquitlam and North Vancouver District, are still weighing whether to sign ahead of a provincially imposed end-of-June deadline, which has already been extended twice.

One policing study will be mounted by the North Vancouver muncipalities, looking at the potential to partner with West Vancouver's municipal police force, or form their own.

Another study will examine much the same issues for Richmond, Burnaby, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam, possibly looking at links to the municipal forces in New Westminster, Port Moody and Delta.

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who represented B.C. cities in the contract talks and was repeatedly criticized by Corrigan for the outcome, stressed he is not declaring victory over the Burnaby mayor.

"This isn't about me winning or losing a battle with any other mayor," Fassbender said, adding it's a wise decision for holdout councils to sign and then take their time deciding whether to opt out of RCMP service.

"Why would they have their taxpayers pay more for whatever amount of time it would be to simply make a point? They can make the point by doing a study then making a decision."

Meanwhile, he said, all cities can work through new contract management committees that have already begun meeting to try to make the new deal work and increase accountability of the Mounties.

All the mayors have repeatedly said they do not take issue with the service provided by RCMP officers in their cities, but the costs and accountability of the force.

~ with files from Jeff Nagel

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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