British Columbia

How the feet of 15 cadavers became a part of the outgoing mayor of Surrey's public mischief trial

Could a foul-mouthed political opponent have run over the mayor of Surrey's foot? Doug McCallum's lawyers drew on evidence Wednesday that included rolling a VW Passat over the feet of 15 cadavers to say — perhaps.

Defence calls experts at McCallum's mischief trial to show political opponent could have run over his foot

Outgoing Surrey mayor Doug McCallum is pictured leaving Surrey provincial court this week as his public mischief trial wrapped for the day. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Could a foul-mouthed political opponent have run over the mayor of Surrey's foot?

Doug McCallum's lawyers drew on evidence Wednesday that included rolling a VW Passat over the feet of 15 cadavers to say — perhaps.

Defence counsel Eric Gottardi told the provincial court judge overseeing McCallum's public mischief trial the Crown had fallen "markedly short of the standard of proof" needed to convict the 78-year-old of falsely accusing a political opponent of a criminal offence.

And that "regardless of any advertent or inadvertent embellishments" McCallum might have made when he told RCMP that Debi Johnstone drove her Mustang over his foot, the outgoing mayor was justified in filing a police complaint against her.

"We say that the evidence will establish that the underlying facts which arise from the incident between Mr. McCallum and Ms. Johnstone when viewed in totality and in context amply support the complaint that Mr. McCallum made to the RCMP," Gottardi said.

"A complaint essentially of hit and run and criminal harassment."

CSI meets JFK

Gottardi launched the defence's case after the Crown wrapped its submissions Tuesday following two days of testimony from Johnstone and the RCMP's primary investigator on McCallum's file.

The Crown claims McCallum lied to RCMP about an encounter in a Save-On-Foods parking lot on Sept. 4 that started with Johnstone yelling 'Resign McCallum" from her open-top convertible and ended with her driving away after what she called a "heated debate," during which she swore at him repeatedly and called him scaly-faced.

Debi Johnstone is the woman outgoing Surrey mayor Doug McCallum accused of striking him with her vehicle. (Submitted by Debi Johnstone)

Johnstone, a member of Keep The RCMP in Surrey, a group opposed to McCallum's plans for a municipal police force, told police she thought it was her "lucky day" when she saw an opportunity to confront the mayor in person.

The entire incident was caught on CCTV footage taken from inside the grocery store, but a shrub obscures McCallum's left foot and the rear tire of Johnstone's vehicle.

According to evidence presented by the Crown, police noted that McCallum did not appear to limp in the minutes after he claimed to have been run over.

He also told police Johnstone "pinned" him against his car — something which cannot be seen in the video.

To counter those suspicions, Gottardi called two expert witnesses whose testimony played out like CSI meets JFK, complete with a foot skeleton and grainy slowed-down, blown-up video of the crucial seconds.

'Foot and Ankle International'

Biomechanical engineer Dennis Chimich took the stand first.

Chimich, an expert on the mechanics of injury, reviewed both the CCTV footage and McCallum's hospital records, concluding that swelling on the front of the mayor's left foot was consistent with damage reported in studies involving the running over of feet by cars.

Defence lawyer Eric Gottardi walks ahead of outgoing Surrey mayor Doug McCallum as they made their way into court this week. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The most notable of those was a 2007 study involving cadaver feet and the VW Passat.

Chimich said researchers put the "flash frozen" feet in various types of footwear before running over them, dissecting them and taking X-rays, ultimately finding that bone injuries were "not to be expected" at lower speeds.

He used the foot skeleton — which Gottardi established was not taken from a cadaver — to show the judge where the purported damage was.

Under cross-examination, Crown counsel Richard Fowler asked Chimich about the extent of his research, noting that one journal is dedicated entirely to feet and ankles.

It's called Foot and Ankle International. Fowler said he doesn't subscribe.

The prosecutor pointed out that feet can swell for any number of reasons, including kidney problems and age-related issues. But the exchange led to a debate as to whether that was a subject which lay beyond Chimich's expertise.

Fowler returned to the question about other causes of swelling later in the day when the radiologist who examined McCallum's X-rays took the stand.

"You're not able to say what degree of soft tissue swelling may have been present the day before or week before, is that correct?" Fowler asked him.

"That is correct," the radiologist said.

'The rear wheel could track'

Gottardi's second witness was a mechanical engineer who used special software to create a 3-D aerial image of the parking lot where McCallum and Johnstone clashed.

Bradley Heinrichs slowed the CCTV footage down to the point where he inched through frame by frame in increments of one-thirtieth of a second.

A screenshot of CCTV video captures the moment that outgoing Surrey mayor Doug McCallum claimed that Debi Johnstone ran over his foot in September 2021. (CCTV Save-on-Foods)

Viewed that way, he said, McCallum "appeared to look down and his arms jerk back" as the rear wheel of the Mustang passed his left foot.

Heinrichs analyzed the car's arc through the parking spot relative to McCallum's position to conclude that "if you're standing close enough, the rear wheel could track" over his left foot.

He also said that it was impossible to tell from the video whether the mayor's gait changed after the encounter.

On cross-examination, Heinrichs agreed with Fowler's assertion that McCallum "appears to start walking almost immediately behind the vehicle" after Johnstone drove away.

The prosecutor zeroed in on the main shortcoming of the video — the shrubs and curb that hide both tire and foot from view: a grassy knoll, so to speak.

"You can't say from your review of the video precisely where he was standing, so, therefore, you can't say from your review of the video whether his foot was run over?" Fowler asked Heinrichs.

Heinrichs agreed.

The trial resumes next Tuesday.


Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.


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