A report that will play a part in determining the future of policing in Esquimalt is being pegged by some as an election issue.
Municipal council candidate Dave Hodgins said the current council should release its recommendations contained within a report, which is in the hands of the province to decide whether Victoria Police Department will continue to work in the municipality or whether the service will be handed over to the RCMP.
“For the public to make informed decisions as they go to the ballot (box on Nov. 19), they need to know what the candidates stand for, whether they are incumbents or whether they are running for the first time,” Hodgins said.
“The public today are interested. The public want to know, want to be engaged and be engaged in an effective way. How can we be involved in an effective way in the absence of quality information?”
Tim Morrison, co-chair of the Esquimalt Residents Association and a council candidate, challenged Mayor Barb Desjardins and council “to state publicly right now whether or not they would release the report immediately upon being sworn into office.
“The future of Esquimalt policing is perhaps the single biggest issue facing Esquimalt residents in advance of this fall’s municipal elections, yet we are not allowed to know our council’s official policing plan,” Morrison said in an email.
“Policing is our single most expensive service, yet we are not allowed to know its future cost. Both Esquimalt council and the province are keeping us in the dark.”
But Desjardins said her council won’t release the report because it contains “sensitive” information related to labour – police officers and civilian staff from other municipalities could be affected.
“There are labour issues, there are all sorts of requirements that would be sensitive in many ways,” Desjardins said.
“I’m concerned that it would be turned into an election issue. We’re in the middle of a process and the process is not complete. I think it’s important for Esquimalt residents to know where they’re at, to know the process, but I don’t want to jeopardize the process because we’re coming into an election.”
In response to growing concerns by residents, council planned to meet during an in-camera session Monday night. It also planned to review the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s second request for additional information concerning Esquimalt’s preferred policing contractor.
VicPD has policed Esquimalt since 2003. In March, Esquimalt sought policing proposals from neighbouring departments, but Saanich declined to bid, leaving the race to VicPD and the RCMP’s E division.
Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond said in a statement she might not make a decision on the report before the Nov. 19 municipal elections.
Meanwhile, the province has ordered an interim review of the issues that have been plaguing the police service shared by Victoria and Esquimalt.
Jean Greatbatch, a certified human resources professional, is conducting the interim review and is expected to submit recommendations by Jan. 30.
“So we just see this as the ministry’s ongoing due diligence to finish off the policing audit (conducted in 2010) where it may have come up short for us in terms of the key concerns which were governance, decision-making around financing and dispute resolution,” Desjardins said.
“Ideally, it would have been nice to have had it done three years ago, but the issues continue in terms of Victoria and Esquimalt (not) functioning (well).”