British Columbia

Woman at centre of allegation that led to mischief charge against Surrey mayor maintains innocence

The woman at the centre of an incident that led to a public mischief charge against Surrey's mayor stepped out of the shadows Tuesday, accusing Doug McCallum of falsely accusing her of vehicular assault.

Debi Johnstone is one of seven citizens banned from city council chambers by Mayor Doug McCallum

Debi Johnstone is the woman who was accused by Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum of striking him with her vehicle. Johnstone says the alleged assault never happened. McCallum has since been charged with public mischief. (Submitted by Debi Johnstone)

The woman at the centre of an incident that led to a public mischief charge against Surrey's mayor stepped out of the shadows Tuesday, saying Doug McCallum falsely accused her of vehicular assault.

Debi Johnstone identified herself after her name appeared in a search warrant connected to the investigation against McCallum that was unsealed last Friday following an application in B.C. Supreme Court.

The 65-year-old is also one of seven opponents of the mayor's plans for a municipal police force who were banned from council meetings by McCallum last fall just days after he accused her of running over his foot in a grocery store parking lot.

"My name is Debi Johnstone," she said in a brief statement she read to CBC News.

"I am the victim that Mr. McCallum falsely accused September the 4th, 2021. I remain steadfast in my original statement of innocence."

'Trauma and stress'

The issue of Johnstone's identity thickens the plot in a story likely to dominate headlines in the lead-up to Surrey's municipal election — which happens two weeks before the mayor's trial.

Since the matter is before the courts, neither McCallum nor Johnstone would comment further.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum holds a news conference in October 2020. The mayor's public mischief trial is set to take place two weeks after civil elections in late October. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The search warrant was sworn a week after the mayor claimed he was verbally assaulted and struck by a car in a Save-On-Foods parking lot where members of "Keep the RCMP in Surrey" were collecting signatures.

While a judge unsealed the warrant, it was not publicly available Tuesday. News reports claim the document states that video surveillance appeared to undermine the mayor's allegations.

Paul Daynes, campaign director for Keep the RCMP in Surrey, said Johnstone is normally one of the organization's most vocal and enthusiastic supporters. 

He said she's suffered "trauma and stress related to a prominent citizen, a leader in our community, making an allegation of criminal assault with a weapon — the weapon being an automobile.

"That, I think, would freak and stress most ordinary citizens out," Daynes said.

'Please quote me on that'

Members of Keep the RCMP in Surrey are awaiting a B.C. Supreme Court judge's verdict on a petition to overturn a bylaw amendment that forced them to remove their lawn signs from private and public spaces.

The new rules expanded the definition of "political signs" to include support or opposition for hot-button issues prior to the calling of an election, referendum or plebiscite.

Members of Keep the RCMP in Surrey are fighting to overturn a ban on displaying political lawn signs before an election or plebiscite call. (Keep the RCMP in Surrey/Facebook)

The court documents related to that fight say McCallum brought forward a resolution on Sept. 13 — a week and a half after the parking lot incident — banning Johnstone and six others from physically attending City of Surrey council meetings because of "disorderly conduct."

Johnstone was escorted by police to the closed city chamber door a month later where RCMP allowed her to knock three times as a gesture of opposition.

According to the petition, she subsequently sat in the atrium at city hall to watch the proceedings through transparent glass but last December noticed the "glass windows had been blacked out or heavily tinted."

Johnstone's Facebook page includes a link to a petition calling on the City of Surrey to stop paying McCallum's legal bills for defending himself against the mischief charge.

His lawyer, Richard Peck, is one of Canada's best known defenders — having recently led the team of defence lawyers who fought attempts by the United States to extradite Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

Daynes said the issues at play in McCallum's reaction to Johnstone and the other members of the group speak to a lack of respect for civil rights regarding free speech.

"I'm proud to be a Canadian and I have rights, inalienable rights that generations of Canadians fought and died for," Daynes said.

"This bastard — and please quote me on that — has violated every single one of them."

In a response to the petition filed by Johnstone and the others, the City of Surrey argued that the requirement to make council meetings open to the public does not guarantee the right to "physically attend those meetings in person."

The move to ban Johnstone and the others from council chambers passed by a vote of five to four as members of McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition stuck with the mayor.

Councillor Linda Annis, one of the four votes against the motion, told the CBC she fears the public mischief case will overshadow the important issues that Surrey residents should be focusing on with an election nearing.

"We've got 1,500 people moving here each month and we need to be focusing on things like housing, schooling, better transportation for the residents, and right now we're not. What we're focused on is the mayor's bad behaviour and that's not good for any city," she said.

Annis called on McCallum to step aside pending the trial.

"I don't think he should resign because he's not guilty," she said. "That's for the courts to decide. But in the meanwhile, he needs to step aside and let us get on with the business that we need to be doing in the city."

None of the allegations against McCallum have been proven in court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

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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