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B.C. rejects release of Esquimalt policing report

Jul 10 2012

Concerned taxpayers may have to wait months before they see a key Esquimalt report that kickstarted a local policing crisis, after the provincial government shot down requests to make it public.

Esquimalt's law enforcement committee submitted the report - recommending the switch from Victoria police to the RCMP - to the provincial government in October. The Justice Ministry confirmed that only it has the authority to release the document.

The government refused to provide a copy when asked by the Times Colonist this week, instead suggesting the newspaper use B.C.'s freedom of information law - which can take months and lead to substantial access fees - to obtain the document.

"While government moves to implement the report of the mediator, it's premature to release the panel report at this point," the ministry said in a statement.

The government "will commit to releasing what we can of it in the future" after consultations with third-party groups, such as the Victoria Police Department and RCMP, and after parts of it are redacted under B.C.'s freedom of information laws, the statement read.

Some of the mediator's key recommendations - which include a new framework agreement between Esquimalt and Victoria, and a new community advisory committees - aren't set for completion until as late

as Nov. 30.

Things could be delayed even further with Esquimalt's announcement Thursday that it is going to seek a legal opinion on whether Justice Minister Shirley Bond has the power to force the community to stick with the Victoria police.

Meanwhile, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins this week gave the go-ahead for Victoria police and RCMP to release their policing plans after the community put out a request for proposals last year.

The Victoria Police Department said it wouldn't release its proposal, despite assurances from Mayor Dean Fortin that it would be made public. Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham also said he'd want the proposal out in the open, but needs to take direction from the police board.

Police spokesman Mike Tucker said the department is still negotiating the terms of the policing plan with Esquimalt, so it would be premature to release it.

"Right now, we don't want to release it because we're going to work with the township and the [government-appointed] facilitator to come to an agreement on those recommendations," Tucker said.

Tucker also said the proposal contains possibly sensitive information about strategic deployment that could be harmful if it were in the public realm.

The RCMP said they wouldn't release their proposal because they haven't received a formal request from Esquimalt to do so.

The secrecy and lack of transparency has caused a rift between Coun. Dave Hodgins and the rest of the council.

Hodgins has long called for the panel's report and the proposals to be made public so Esquimalt citizens could see for themselves the service proposed by Victoria police and the Mounties.

"I strongly believe we should be talking to our public, letting them know as much as we can," said Hodgins, who walked out of a meeting Wednesday night because council decided to hold it behind closed doors.

Monday night's Esquimalt council meeting is the first opportunity the public will have to voice their opinions on the policing process.

The Victoria police board is set to discuss the mediator's report at its Tuesday board meeting.

rshaw@timescolonist.com kderosa@timescolonist.com

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