British Columbia

Surrey bans new ethics investigations until after fall civic election

In a five-to-three vote, council voted to order a moratorium on new ethics investigations by the commissioner beginning April 12 and running until after October's municipal election.

'The whole issue around public access should be open and fluid,' said councillor opposed to limit

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey slate of councillors voted in favour of the moratorium. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Surrey council voted Monday evening on a controversial limit to the work of the city's ethics commissioner that some councillors say will stifle accountability.

In a five-to-three vote, council voted to order a moratorium on new ethics investigations by the commissioner beginning Tuesday and lasting until the day after the Oct. 15, 2022, civic election.

The vote displayed the typical division council has seen this term: Mayor Doug McCallum and the four remaining members of his Safe Surrey slate edged out the remaining councillors. Coun. Steven Pettigrew, who left the mayor's team in 2019, was not present.

Coun. Brenda Locke, who voted against the change, said during the meeting that a six month moratorium was "far too long." 

She said a 90-day moratorium would be more in keeping with other jurisdictions.

"The issue of the integrity of this place and the whole issue around public access should be open and fluid to the public," Locke said. 

"This is their house and their information as well."

During this council's term, issues related to ethics and transparency have become fodder for often-nasty disputes between McCallum and his supporters on one side and the rest of council on the other.

The mayor previously introduced a motion for a moratorium on ethics investigations in January but withdrew it. 

Council was similarly divided on a now-approved $10 fee for freedom of information requests. McCallum and his slate passed the fee in another close vote; they argued it would cut down on frivolous FOI claims while opponents said it would make the city and its government more opaque.

Surrey earned a "dishonourable mention" in the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy. That tongue-in-cheek prize was awarded to the city by the Canadian Association of Journalists for banning several people from city council meetings last year. 

McCallum was charged with public mischief in December over a police complaint he made in September, claiming that his foot had been run over in a parking lot.

McCallum 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.

With files from Kiran Singh

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