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Bond yet to read policing report she received Jan. 30

Jun 04 2012

B.C.'s Justice Minister left Victoria for summer break Thursday without deciding the fate of Esquimalt's policing service, a move critics called a cynical delay to avoid public accountability in the legislature on a controversial decision.

Shirley Bond said she has still not read a report by mediator Jean Greatbatch into the dispute between Esquimalt and Victoria over policing. Her office received the report Jan. 30.

"I actually think within the next few weeks we will be at least able to speak more publicly about the outcomes of the report," Bond said.

"I don't know if we'll be in a position to solve the problems at that point completely, but obviously the report will be made public, and we'll continue to work through this process.

"I'm not aware even of the options at this point," Bond added.

Esquimalt has been policed by the Victoria Police Department since 2003, but has expressed unhappiness over service levels and cost for years.

Esquimalt council said last fall it wanted to ditch Victoria police in favour of the RCMP. That requires provincial government approval. Bond appointed a mediator to look into the situation before deciding on Esquimalt's request.

The continued "paralysis" of the Justice Ministry on Esquimalt policing has upset the community, said EsquimaltRoyal Roads NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis.

"Month after month, the ministry continues to say that the report is coming, some kind of decision is coming and people in my community want to know what kind of policing they are going to have in the future," she said.

Karagianis said she is not surprised the Liberal government delayed its decision until after the legislature adjourned for the summer, "so that there won't be any scrutiny or questions."

"As soon as the government removes accountability from any of these decisions you have to be really suspicious about what their intentions are," she said.

"It wouldn't surprise me, though. This government seems to be on the run from many of their own decisions."

The government may also be waiting for a string of bad news surrounding the RCMP to die down before deciding Esquimalt's fate, said Karagianis.

The Mounties have faced a wave of criticism in recent weeks, including municipalities who refuse to resign policing contracts, unexpected wage hikes and anger over the transfer of an RCMP officer with a history of sexual misconduct to B.C.

"There is a really, really big concern with RCMP contracting for policing, and I think that's been aggravated with the recent bad news that's come out of the RCMP," said Karagianis.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said while she is frustrated that the process has taken so long - almost three years since a police audit by thensolicitor general Kash Heed opened up the option to change police forces - whether or not the legislature is sitting will not be an issue.

Esquimalt councillor Tim Morrison said the province is being "disrespectful" to Esquimalt citizens for leaving them in limbo so long.

"Enough is enough," Morrison said. "We're sitting idle. We can't move forward, we can't do anything until we have this decision."

Morrison said he is in favour of a regional police force but said neither Greater Victoria mayors nor the provincial government are willing to show leadership.

"I think the majority of Esquimalt residents are the same as the majority of residents across the region, which is indicating a strong desire for regional policing."

An RCMP detachment in Esquimalt would create eight police departments in Greater Victoria, which has a population of 350,000.

rfshaw@timescolonist.com kderosa@timescolonist.com

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