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Inside the Surrey policing war of words

A look at the heated text messages and emails between Surrey's Brenda Locke and NDP Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth over Surrey's police fight.
Photo: Surrey Police Service

It started at 10:25 a.m. on June 15, when Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke's executive assistant emailed her counterpart in NDP Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth's office.

Harpreet Dhillon had just spoken with Farnworth's chief of staff, Michael Snoddon, by phone. A majority of Surrey city councillors would vote later that day behind closed doors, based on a secret report, to keep the RCMP instead of replacing it with the fledgling Surrey Police Service (SPS).

"Mayor Locke would like a phone call with Minister Farnsworth (sic) and is available anytime before 1 p.m." wrote Dhillon, who consistently misspelled the solicitor general's surname in their communication, which was released under freedom of information. "I have held 11:30-11:45 a.m. and await your confirmation.

Farnworth's staff countered with an 11:45 a.m. to noon slot. Messages went back and forth about who else would be involved. Snoddon and Deputy Minister Doug Scott would join Farnworth—chief administrative officer Vince Lalonde with Locke.

At 5:07 p.m., after the in-camera meeting, Dhillon asked to set up another call between the mayor and the solicitor general. But Snoddon did not respond until 7:44 a.m. the following day.

"Minister Farnworth has been informed that the city has offered the corporate report under non-disclosure agreement (NDA) via discussions between ministry officials and [Lalonde]," Snoddon wrote. "The minister has asked that I convey that he is able to speak to the mayor once she makes a public announcement and the Ministry has had a chance to review the corporate report."

Snoddon corrected himself in an 8:05 a.m. message. "My apologies. I misunderstood the minister's request of me. The minister is able to speak with the mayor after the ministry has reviewed the corporate report and he has asked to find out when the mayor will be making a public announcement. Terribly sorry after any confusion I may have caused."

Dhillon replied at 8:39 a.m. that Locke wanted to let the minister know the outcome of the special council meeting. But Snoddon remained firm: Farnworth would only talk after receiving the report. Dhillon confirmed Locke would make a public statement at 11 a.m. and agreed to convey Farnworth's stance to her.

Snoddon's next message, at 9:47 p.m., was the one that Locke deemed "aggressive" during her impassioned appearance before reporters on June 19.

"Minister Farnworth would like to meet with Mayor Locke per her request," Snoddon wrote. "The Minister is looking to receive the corporate report as agreed to in order to schedule a meeting. My understanding from staff is that the city has not transferred the report to the province at this time of my email. As you know, this is a very urgent matter. Can you please let me know when I can expect to receive the report?"

On Saturday at 9:06 a.m. Carole Richardson, Locke's administrative coordinator, said Locke advised that city staff were working with ministry staff about the transfer of the report.

Locke would make herself available to speak with Farnworth "whenever he is available."

Two hours later, Snoddon said city staff indicated they would begin to transfer the report "well into next week."

"That is not acceptable," Snoddon declared. He then claimed city staff said the report would be given to the province "at noon yesterday" and asked whether Locke would expedite the process for the meeting to happen.

At 1:37 p.m., Locke sent a text message to Snoddon: "Mayor Locke here. I tried to call you and would appreciate a call back."

She did not receive a reply, according to the documents disclosed.

At 9:32 a.m. on June 19, Farnworth set a 1 p.m. deadline to receive the report, or else he would make his determination with the facts at his disposal.

Locke blasted Eby and Farnworth at her midday news conference on June 19, criticizing Farnworth for favouring the SPS and speaking through the media instead of directly with her.

Locke even accused him of misogyny.

"He still has not called me. I asked to speak to both him and the premier after the vote. He chose not to talk to me. I haven't talked to him since," Locke said. "I got a rather aggressive email from one of his political staff at 10 o'clock on Friday night; I responded to it, but that staffer did not call me back."

Locke also told reporters that provincial officials signed the NDAs at 11:27 a.m., just like the provincial officials required Locke and company to sign to read the province's late April report that recommended adopting the SPS.

Just over an hour later, Locke's four-and-a-half-page open letter went to Eby and Farnworth's email boxes. It said Surrey had made its "second and final" choice that the RCMP was the best policing option for the city.

"I will close by confirming the Surrey council's opinion that we have exercised our legal authority to select the RCMP to serve as our police force," said Locke's letter. "As per the terms of your ministry report, the province, city and police agencies will work together to implement the decision effectively."

The stalemate continues as the second anniversary of the July 16, 2021 swearing-in of the first 46 SPS officers approaches.