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New councillor demands release of information on Esquimalt RCMP plan

Jan 11 2012

It is time for Esquimalt to come clean about what is involved in using the RCMP for policing the municipality, a councillor says.

Newly elected David Hodgins has given notice that he wants the information on the RCMP proposal to police the municipality released by March 1. Esquimalt councillors will debate Hodgins’ motion next week.

Information to be released would include operating costs, required capital costs, the service model — including the number of police officers and types of programs — and the governance and community relations structure of the RCMP proposal.

“It’s critically important that the public understand where we will be with policing services in the Township of Esquimalt,” said Hodgins, a former B.C. fire commissioner, who has served as chief of several fire departments across Canada.

“Certainly, as I was out campaigning as part of the election in 2011, policing was the number one issue with people that I talked to and they are asking for information.”

But Mayor Barb Desjardins said Hodgins’ motion is “fraught with difficulties.”

“There are a number of concerns with respect to whether we can release that information, so council will really need to understand what they are saying when they have that discussion and make those decisions,” Desjardins said.

Hodgins’ motion includes the release of all information from the policing and law enforcement advisory panel’s June 29 report to the Office of the Solicitor General “that does not violate any official obligation related to confidentiality agreements or as required by provincial legislation.”

“I want to be very respectful of any confidentiality requirements [and] Charter requirements but, at the same time, I want us to seriously consider what can be provided for the public so they are better informed and we can all move forward as a community,” he said.

Hodgins is also calling on the municipality to prepare a special page on its website where all the information could be posted and where the public can provide feedback.

But Desjardins said the information Hodgins is looking to have released “is all part of negotiations [that are] ongoing and are within the confidentiality bounds that we gave and were given.”

Esquimalt merged with the Victoria police in 2003. It is still policed by Victoria, but the outgoing council revealed in October that it supported a switch to the RCMP. The Mounties were the only police force besides Victoria that put in a bid to police the municipality.

Desjardins said she is concerned about the timing in Hodgins’ motion, given that Solicitor General Shirley Bond has yet to rule whether a change in policing will be allowed.

Desjardins said she does not want to compromise the process.

Esquimalt has been unhappy with the level of service from Victoria police and with rising costs since the Esquimalt and Victoria police departments merged.

Esquimalt, with a population of 17,000, pays 15 per cent of policing costs, which amounts to $6.4 million of Victoria police’s $42-million budget. Victoria’s population is about 78,000.

Esquimalt is paying the second highest policing costs per capita in the region — $331 per person, according to a 2009 report by B.C.’s police services branch. It is second only to Victoria, which pays $413.

Switching to the Mounties was unanimously supported by Esquimalt council, which endorsed recommendations by Esquimalt’s policing and law enforcement advisory panel. The panel, chaired by Desjardins and made up of Esquimalt residents appointed by the municipality and the province, made its decision based on community input and advice from a consulting firm with policing expertise.

That report was sent to Bond last June. All parties are awaiting a response.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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