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No hammer yet for cities holding off on RCMP renewal

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Several Lower Mainland cities now say they won't meet an end-of-May deadline to sign a new 20-year contract with the RCMP because they still have too many unresolved questions.

And it's not yet clear whether holdout cities that don't sign soon will be forced to organize a municipal police alternative instead.

Councils in Burnaby, Richmond and North Vancouver are among those that have balked at ratifying the agreement reached earlier this spring.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond, who previously granted a one-month extension to the original deadline to sign or opt out of service with the Mounties, isn't saying what will happen to cities that decide to wait for more answers.

"We have already extended the signing deadline from the end of April to the end of this month and at this time no decision has been made about a further extension," Bond said in a statement.

She said the province has also been pressing Ottawa to clarify costs and other aspects of the contract and has been promised answers as soon as possible.

"We're not signing it until we get some response," City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto said, adding it would be "very foolish" for a municipality to sign something as vague and unclear as the new policing contract.

"I can't assume what the province is going to do," he said. "We have to do our due diligence and take the time we have to take to analyze this contract as well as look at what are the alternatives to RCMP policing."

Mussatto and other mayors cited the capital and operating cost of the new $1.2 billion RCMP E Division headquarters being built in Surrey as a major concern.

"We were told originally we wouldn't have to pay anything," Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said. "Now we're being told we're going to have to pay something and the kinds of estimates we're getting back are in the millions of dollars per year."

Other issues include the 5.25 per cent pay increase for Mounties over three years that was more than cities had previously expected.

If Burnaby wants to seriously consider replacing the RCMP, Corrigan said, he expects the province to cooperate and ensure his city gets the time it needs to make a carefully considered transition.

"I don't think there's much of a risk that the provincial government will withdraw the police from Burnaby and leave us a lawless frontier town," he added.

Bond and Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender have argued the new contract will make the RCMP much more accountable to cities for their spending than in the past.

SFU criminology professor Rob Gordon expects the province to extend the deadline and the impasse to drag on unless cities get something closer to a guarantee limiting their exposure to higher costs.

Nor does he foresee any scenario where cities go unpoliced.

"A hard-nosed minister of justice would probably say 'Either you guys sign or we are going to sign for you,'" Gordon said.

The province would, in effect, directly contract the RCMP to continue municipal policing in holdout cities and then find some mechanism to claw back the costs.

He said Bond could also amalgamate the RCMP holdout cities around Vancouver, perhaps along with nearby municipal forces, into a Metro Vancouver regional police force.

"It could be done very quickly, but it would be a mess," Gordon said, adding it would be wiser to name an independent task force to investigate various options to restructure police forces in B.C.

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