January 22, 2023 – It is generally well understood that Town and City governments are responsible for providing essential services such as water and waste disposal, parks and recreation facilities, and road and sidewalk maintenance for their residents. Other services such as childhood education and medically necessary services are a provincial government responsibility. Electrical, telecommunication and natural gas services are provided through the private sector.
However, responsibility for enforcement of federal and provincial laws is one domain that warrants closer inspection and, as we explore in this Explainer, could use stepped up accountability and transparency by our elected Town Council.
Town has statutory responsibility for policing
The provincial Local Government Act and the Community Charter deal only with enforcement of municipal bylaws. The provincial Police Act clearly spells out the Town’s obligations to its citizens for ensuring appropriate enforcement of federal and provincial laws.
Under the Police Act, municipalities with populations of 5,000 and over must provide their own law enforcement by either forming their own police department, or contracting with an existing police department, or contracting with the provincial government for RCMP police services.
The Town of Qualicum Beach is one of 63 municipalities in BC that contract with the province for RCMP municipal police services. When the Town hires any contractor to provide services to our community, we Town residents expect that Town Hall will hold the contractor to account to deliver these services to our satisfaction.
The RCMP currently has a monopoly on providing contracted municipal policing services in our area.
The Town indirectly contracts the RCMP according to the terms and conditions of the 20 year (2012 to 2032) Municipal Police Service Agreement (MPSA) between the BC Government and the federal RCMP.
Given this arrangement, our authority and our ability to manage policing matters in our community might seem outside our control. That would be a dangerous and incorrect assumption.
Council can and should manage policing in our Town
RCMP Police Protection is the most expensive line item in our Town’s annual operating budget, at $1,469,000 (2022 budget) per year and rising, an expenditure that deserves thorough Town oversight.
So, what exactly is the Town authorized to do to ensure value-for-money under this hugely expensive and perpetual contract?
Let’s explore some of the contractual obligations and accountabilities spelled out within the MPSA related to planning and directing the RCMP’s work, leaving aside for now the actual performance of its officers.
The policing Agreement expects a leadership role (oversight?) from a Chief Executive Official from the Town defined as “the Mayor, reeve, warden or other elected head of the municipality, however designated, and includes such delegate approved, from time to time, by the municipal council.”
The Town of Qualicum Beach’s website provides no explanation whatsoever about who our “CEO” is for purposes of the policing Agreement (more on that later), so let’s assume it’s Mayor Teunis Westbroek.
Another key leadership role defined in the Agreement is the RCMP’s “Member in Charge,” defined as the Detachment Commander, in our case the assigned head of the Oceanside RCMP. They too have some transparency issues (more on that later too), so we assume they choose not to make his or her name public.
Here is a list of some of the expectations of each of these two local players — Mayor Westbroek and the Detachment Commander — under the terms of the Agreement.
Defining the specific level of policing to be provided to the Town of Qualicum Beach: “The Provincial Minister [currently Honourable Mike Farnworth] and the mayor will determine, in consultation with the [federal RCMP] Commissioner, the level of policing service to be provided by each municipal police unit (i.e., the Oceanside RCMP Detachment).”
Setting specific policing objectives and goals: “The mayor may set objectives, priorities and goals for the Oceanside RCMP as long as they are not inconsistent” with provincial practices.
We are unaware of any public engagement in Qualicum Beach, or even open Council discussion, about the level of policing our community expects, that could guide our mayor in this negotiation, if it even happens.
Reporting complaints received by the RCMP about their service: The Detachment Commander will “provide the mayor each month with the particulars of any new or outstanding complaints made against the Oceanside RCMP by any member of the public to the RCMP…” Further up the chain of command, “the RCMP commanding officer [for the province] will provide Minister Farnworth each month with the particulars of any new or outstanding complaints made against the Service by any member of the public to the RCMP…”
RCMP performance accountability and reporting to the Town: The Detachment Commander will “report as reasonably required to either the mayor or the designate of the mayor on the matter of law enforcement in the Town and on the implementation of the objectives, priorities and goals for Oceanside RCMP.” Note that none of this is currently visible to the broad public, other than the RCMP’s periodic PR visit to Council as a Delegation.
RCMP resource utilization: “In each Fiscal Year, the Oceanside RCMP Detachment Commander will give to the mayor annual statements, and such additional statements as may be reasonably requested from time to time by the mayor, of the composition of Oceanside RCMP that show or include: a current organization chart of the Oceanside RCMP; the location and function of all Members and Support Staff who are not casual employees; the location and function of all casual employees and temporary employees; the number of vacancies which represent positions with no-one assigned to the positions; the number of vacancies in which the assigned individual is on special leave and, where possible, including an indication of whether or not an additional individual has been assigned to backfill the position; the number of Members being deployed in surplus to the established strength; and in each case an explanation of changes since the previous statement.”
For the purposes of human resource planning for the next Fiscal Year: “The Detachment Commander will consult with the mayor and obtain approval, or approval in principle, from the mayor on or prior to June 1 of each year for the number of Members required to maintain the level of policing service to be provided ..”
Is the Town of Qualicum Beach holding up its end of the deal?
Given the Town’s propensity for operating in secret, taxpayers are left to wonder how well our Town’s policing is being managed.
Does the Town’s Organization Chart include any reference to the Town Police Department and its reporting relationship with the Town? Well, it’s hard to know. The Town website’s online Document Library does not appear to even include a Town Organization Chart. Nor could we find any documentation of agreed upon police service levels, reports, or complaints. Policing is not even listed as a department. Nor is the name of the local RCMP Detachment Commander listed.
And Oceanside RCMP doesn’t provide any of this basic information on-line either.
We finally stumbled onto a link to Oceanside RCMP on the Town’s website buried under Earthquake Preparedness, beneath a Town Service called Emergency Preparedness, all apparently the responsibility of Town Planner Luke Sales. Who knew?
By comparison, consider the City of Nanaimo whose policing is also contracted from the RCMP under the exact same provincial / RCMP Agreement for municipal policing. In contrast to the complete absence of information on the Town of QB’s website, Nanaimo explains their approach to policing and crime prevention, including their collaborative staffing where “working as part of the Nanaimo police team are two Municipal Enforcement Officers whose primary function is to enforce the Traffic and Highways Regulation Bylaw and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.”
Nanaimo’s listed City departments include both policing and fire as Protective Services and identify RCMP Superintendent Lisa Fletcher, Officer-in-Charge of the RCMP’s Nanaimo Detachment, as part of the City team, including an email address for her at City Hall. Why does the Town of Qualicum Beach and the Oceanside RCMP detachment not offer the same transparency?
Closer to home, go to the City of Parksville’s website, type “police” in the Search field, and the first item in the results is a link to the page describing Parksville’s working relationship with Oceanside RCMP.
The City of Port Alberni offers another example of obvious cooperation between the City and its RCMP detachment through this page on the City’s website: https://portalberni.ca/rcmp-port-alberni-detachment, although lacking in the courtesy of identifying who’s in charge and his/her email address.
What’s with the police blotter in the local Black Press newspaper?
Speaking of Port Alberni, we have a bone to pick with Teresa Bird, Black Press Media’s publisher of the Alberni Valley News. She is also now the publisher of the Parksville and Qualicum Beach (PQB) News.
Ms. Bird regularly includes a “PQB Crime Report” in the PQB News. But there is no corresponding “Alberni Crime Report” in her hometown newspaper… which led us to check other island Black Press publications during a specific week in December. Any log of petty crimes by unidentified perps in the Nanaimo News Bulletin? Nope. Cowichan Valley Citizen? Nope. Comox Valley Record? Nada.
What’s the purpose behind Black Press’ obvious discrepancy in “news” coverage between our area and other BC communities? Why is Qualicum Beach being treated differently? Apart from free content filler for her newspaper, what purpose is served by this so-called Crime Report?
If publishing such a log caused readers to become more careful about locking their valuables etc., then it would probably also be published in all their other weekly papers, but it’s not. Also, the submitted “PQB Crime Report” information in PQB News is often three weeks old, of zero value in preventing any short-term wave of thefts in your neighbourhood.
We cannot fathom why our Town Council and Administration allow such a useless, negative reflection on our Town to be published. Any reader from afar could certainly be excused for reaching the conclusion that Qualicum Beach and Parksville are hotbeds of petty crime. Great advertising folks.
Which brings us back to the purpose of this Explainer — where is the Town’s oversight of policing, the most expensive line item in our Town’s annual operating budget per year, and rising?