Debate over replacing the RCMP heating up in island communities

Langford Mayor Stew Young is fired up over the idea of replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force.

“Don't point out here to say there’s a better way for us to do it. We're not looking for that,” he said. “We will always support the RCMP because of the good job they’ve done."

The idea is one of 11 recommendations made by a legislative committee tasked with overhauling the Police Act in B.C., amid concerns about systematic racism and accountability.

"This is an ongoing problem in British Columbia, so we thought the provincial service would be better able to respond to that," said MLA Doug Routley, who chaired the Special Committee on Reforming Police Act.

The committee’s report, released Thursday, is being embraced by some. Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt tweeted his support for the recommendation.

“Let's implement BC's special committee recommendations on police reform, replacing RCMP with a revitalized Provincial Police Service 'based on values of decolonization, anti-racism, community and accountability.' We need this model in #yyj too,” Isitt wrote.

That statement met with hostility from Langford’s mayor, who says the RCMP have faced their challenges in the past, but have come a long way on the West Shore.

"What we have in Langford is a modern police force,” said Young. “You are going to have a problem with any police force across Canada, but we are getting better and I’ve seen it over 30 years."

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog is also backing the Mounties.

"The RCMP are symbolic of this country,” he said. “Have they made mistakes? Yes. But in Nanaimo, frankly, I think the RCMP does a very good job in challenging times."

He adds that switching to a provincial police force is easier said than done.

"We can see the mess in Surrey trying to transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force,” said Krog. “This is an expensive proposition, should not be entered into lightly, and with great respect to the legislative committee, I think, requires a great deal of in-depth study."

Back in Langford, Young says there are more than 120 officers who serve the entire West Shore and are an integral part of the community.

"There’s just such a community link with the RCMP and I don't ever want to lose that," said Young.

The debate sparked by this report won't be settled any time soon. It's still unknown if government will implement any of the recommendations, and a move like replacing the RCMP is expected to take years.