Bar Watch chair raps red tape
Program that targets gangsters has support but needs RCMP ‘policy shift’
The chair of the Bar Watch program says RCMP red tape is preventing the local detachment from setting up programs targeting gangsters who frequent bars, restaurants and other businesses in Surrey.
“There’s a reluctance on the behalf of the RCMP to take some aggressive steps for fear that they’re going to be sued or chastised, or whatever,” said Curtis Robinson, a retired Vancouver police sergeant who helped revamp Vancouver’s Bar Watch in 2007.
Businesses that participate in the program scan the driver’s licences of those who enter, and “undesirable” patrons are denied entry. Their information is then shared with other Bar Watch members, a practice that has drawn criticism from civil liberties groups.
Police can also enter Bar Watch establishments without consulting staff or management and remove people they identify as potentially dangerous to the public.
Essentially, the program streamlines the process for police officers who are already targeting people involved in criminal activity.
“These people got sick and tired of being thrown out of the bars and they went out to the (Fraser) Valley,” said Robinson. He said that because there is no program like Bar Watch in place in most municipalities, those involved in criminal activity can stay under the radar.
Robinson said he received a call shortly after the gang-related murder of Craig Widdifield in the parking lot of a South Surrey mall in April to meet with Mayor Dianne Watts and other stakeholders, including the Surrey RCMP, about how to start a program like Bar Watch in the city.
On Tuesday, he met with the Surrey Board of Trade to provide information about the program and urge its members to support city and police efforts.
“I know Dianne Watts is very interested, as is Chief Supt. (Bill) Fordy, in getting this thing off the ground in Surrey,” Robinson said.
He stressed that he is not placing the blame on the local detachment, but on upper management; the program has not been implemented in any communities policed by the RCMP.
“I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the police for not doing enough,” Robinson said. “There needs to be a policy shift at the criminal operations level, at the executive officers’ level, at the legal level, to support the officers on the street interested in making the streets of Surrey safer.”
Surrey RCMP and the municipality are in the early stages of looking into what hurdles stand in the way of implementing a Bar Watch-style program and how to eliminate them.
“As a federal police force we deal with different legality issues, and I think that’s what’s being addressed in some of the meetings,” said Surrey RCMP spokesman Cpl. Bert Paquet.
“Definitely we are in support of any initiatives that are aimed at increasing safety in the community.”
With a record high of 22 murders in Surrey this year — most of which have been attributed to criminal activity and highrisk lifestyles — Paquet said Surrey RCMP have been targeting gang members to make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
“I think the message from the Surrey RCMP has not changed,” Paquet said.
“We’re just looking at more and more available options and tools at our disposal to back up that promise to our community — to make Surrey a safer place to be.”