British Columbia

Surrey mayor climbs down on proposal to suspend ethics complaints until after next election

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has backed down on a motion that would have stopped the city’s ethics commissioner from investigating new complaints until the October municipal election.

Doug McCallum is the subject of ethics investigation himself

Mayor Doug McCallum of Surrey struck a motion from Monday's city council agenda that would have suspended new complaints being investigated by an independent ethics commissioner until after a municipal election on Oct. 15, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has backed down on a motion that would have stopped the city's ethics commissioner from investigating new complaints until after an October municipal election.

The motion to amend the city council's code of conduct bylaw was set to be debated Monday as part of regular council business. It would have suspended processing of new complaints from Jan. 31 until the Oct. 15 election.

However, after sustained opposition from other councillors, McCallum struck his motion off the agenda at the outset of Monday's meeting. The motion to remove his proposal passed without debate.

The mayor is the subject of an ethics investigation himself, with the Surrey Police Vote campaign claiming he had a conflict of interest for chairing the board of the Surrey Police Service while being charged with mischief by the Surrey RCMP.

"The work of the ethics commissioner is valuable and the misinformation circulating about the bylaw is unfortunate," McCallum said in a short statement on Monday.

McCallum said he now intends to ask the ethics commissioner, Reece Harding, to report to council on how to improve the city's code of conduct bylaw.

"The goal is to strengthen the bylaw to ensure the office of the ethics commissioner is not used for partisan purposes during the election period," McCallum said.

McCallum is the subject of an ethics commissioner investigation for chairing the board of the Surrey Police Service while facing a charge of public mischief. The city is paying for his legal defense. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The ethics complaint against McCallum was filed in December and his proposal to suspend new complaints was criticized by other councillors.

"This flies in the face of the spirit and intent of why we brought forward an ethics commissioner in the first place," said Coun. Brenda Locke, who is running against McCallum in the October municipal election.

"We've got, you know, the better part of a year in front of us [until the election]. This is a crucial time for the citizens to have that opportunity [to file a complaint] if they have concerns."

Coun. Jack Hundial, whose election campaign centred around introducing an independent ethics commissioner, also condemned the proposal.

"By suspending the intake of complaints until the election in October, this gives a wide margin for the public to lose further confidence in McCallum and his majority on council," said Hundial in a statement on Friday.

Surrey's ethics commissioner does not have the ability to remove a councillor from office, but can refer councillors to police or ask council to censure them if they are found guilty of violating the city's code of conduct.

The climbdown from McCallum on Monday is yet another highly publicized incident for the mayor of B.C.'s second-largest city, less than a week after his lawyers appeared in court to defend him on a charge of public mischief.

McCallum alleged in September that pro-RCMP supporters had run over his foot in a grocery store parking lot. A special prosecutor later charged him with public mischief, which involves falsely reporting crimes to a police officer.

Surrey's fractious transition from the RCMP to a municipal force, the Surrey Police Service, is set to be a major issue during the upcoming election.

With files from Meera Bains

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