Surrey, B.C., Mayor Doug McCallum is facing mounting pressure to recuse himself from chairing the city’s police board and from any discussions of policing at city council after he was charged last week with public mischief.
A special prosecutor charged the mayor after he complained he had his foot run over at a Surrey shopping centre during a confrontation with someone criticizing his council’s plans to replace the Surrey RCMP with a municipal force. The debate over whether that change should go ahead has steadily grown more vitriolic in the three years since Mr. McCallum was elected on a platform of creating a new Surrey force.
The prosecutor noted the charge was laid after an investigation “initiated by a complaint from Mr. McCallum about events that allegedly occurred on or about Sept. 4.”
The mayor’s political opponents, at least one veteran B.C. former mayor and advocates for a group that has been fighting to keep the RCMP in Surrey argue Mr. McCallum can’t credibly fulfill his roles as board chair or as the mayor when policing issues arise at city council.
“He’s been charged with, in layman’s language, lying to police. It’s a moral, ethical issue. You’ve been accused of lying to police so how do you give them direction?” said Frank Leonard, a former mayor and police board chair in Saanich for 18 years and former president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. He is now a consultant who coaches councils. “I think it’s different than a lot of other situations. This is a whole new threshold.”
A group called Surrey Police Vote plans to file a formal request with Surrey’s relatively new ethics commissioner, asking that the mayor temporarily step down as chair of the police board until the legal case is resolved, that he recuse himself from any discussions of policing at council for the same period, and that his legal fees not be covered by the city.
A city spokesman confirmed that the city will cover Mr. McCallum’s legal costs under its bylaw that indemnifies council members in any legal proceedings that arise when they are performing their duties as elected representatives. The mayor has hired lawyer Richard Peck, who recently acted for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in her extradition hearing.
A representative for Surrey Police Vote, Bill Tieleman, opposes the plan for the city to cover Mr. McCallum’s legal fees, arguing it’s ridiculous to say that Mr. McCallum was acting in his mayoral role when he got into a scrap at the mall with people collecting some of the 43,000 signatures asking for a referendum to be held on the policing change.
But Mr. Leonard said it’s likely that Mr. McCallum and his team would argue that none of that would have happened if he were just a private citizen doing his grocery shopping.
Mr. McCallum is due to appear in court Jan. 25.
“I think he’s lost the moral authority,” said Councillor Brenda Locke, who has already announced she is planning to challenge Mr. McCallum for the mayor’s chair in next year’s election. Ms. Locke said she will be asking the mayor formally to recuse himself at next Monday’s council meeting.
Councillor Linda Annis also said she believes he should take a leave from his roles as mayor and police board chair until there’s a decision on the charge. And she is dismayed at the idea of Surrey citizens paying potentially tens of thousands for his lawyer.
“He was on personal business. He wasn’t representing the city. He should pay his own legal bills.”
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