Former Surrey mayor's public trial to shine light on toxic police debate

Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum enters Surrey provincial court for the first day of his public mischief trial last week. The trial is expected to conclude this week. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum enters Surrey provincial court for the first day of his public mischief trial last week. The trial is expected to conclude this week. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Doug McCallum's lawyers will likely point to the toxic debate over a municipal police force this week as they argue that the former Surrey mayor was justified in accusing a political opponent of harassment.

The 78-year-old's public mischief trial resumes Tuesday morning with arguments intended to convince a provincial court judge McCallum had good reason to make a criminal complaint against Debi Johnstone in September 2021.

His lawyers have promised medical evidence to show McCallum's foot could have been run over in a Save-On-Foods parking lot, as he claimed.

Crown and defence have also submitted a history of complaints between the former mayor and a group called Keep The RCMP in Surrey — culminating in what Johnstone called a "heated debate" minutes before she either did or did not run over McCallum's foot.

Drawing their own conclusions

The former mayor was charged with public mischief last December after an investigation that came under scrutiny in the first week of the trial.

Prosecutor Richard Fowler told Judge Reginald Harris the ultimate question before him would be deciding whether McCallum misled police by giving false statements about his interaction with Johnstone in a bid to see her charged with an offence she didn't commit.

CCTV Save-on-Foods
CCTV Save-on-Foods

The exhibits filed in the case include statements from both Johnstone and McCallum, as well as CCTV footage of the parking lot encounter.

A small shrub obscures both the former mayor's left foot and the rear right wheel of Johnstone's convertible Mustang —leaving police, Crown, defence and now the judge, to interpret events in the hours after the two clashed, to draw their own conclusions.

Police became suspicious of the fact that McCallum didn't appear to limp after his foot was supposed to have been run over.

But the defence presented experts who claimed that being run over by a car wouldn't necessarily break any bones.

'I tried to have my voice heard'

Beyond the question of guilt or innocence, the trial has highlighted the vitriol behind an issue that consumed much of McCallum's term in office and the often childish, sometimes strangely personal relationship, between the former mayor and his detractors.

Johnstone walked to the stand on the first day of the trial and fixed McCallum with her eyes. She continued to glare at him whenever Fowler wasn't blocking her line of sight.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Johnstone admitted to calling McCallum an "evil ... scaly-faced motherf--ker" — an apparent reference to what defence lawyer Richard Peck suggested was a skin condition.

On cross-examination, Peck asked Johnstone if it was her "habit" to demean someone because of a disability.

Johnstone made no apologies. She admitted to thinking it was her "lucky day" when she saw McCallum in the parking lot.

"I tried to have my voice heard for four years," she said. "I tried very hard just to be heard ... it never happened."

According to court documents, Johnstone went to the RCMP in December 2019 to claim McCallum had threatened her.

She accused him of saying something like "I advise you to watch what you say" after she said "SUC, SUC, SUC" to him — an acronym for Surrey Unsafe Coalition, a take on McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition.

Police concluded no offence had been committed.

They also declined to file charges after another member of Keep The RCMP in Surrey claimed a security guard touched his arm in an attempt to convince him to leave council chambers after McCallum cut off his microphone.

'They don't want me to run'

On his end, McCallum referred to death threats when he went to police — two of which are detailed in the joint submission.

In one, a recording directed to the former mayor said his "life might be on the line."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The other alleged threat involved a letter sent through a staff member saying, "You are history" and, "There is a bomb in your house for you."

McCallum pointed a finger at Keep the RCMP in Surrey in both incidents. He also called police on Halloween of 2021 to complain about a woman dressed as a skeleton walking in front of his house with a Keep The RCMP in Surrey sign.

In a videotaped statement to police played in court last week, McCallum told the RCMP officer who took his complaints against Johnstone that he had a "thick skin," but his family was "really worried" about him — "to the point they don't want me to run next time."

McCallum did run — and lost last month to Brenda Locke, who was sworn in as mayor Monday after a campaign in which she vowed to undo her predecessor's attempt to transform the Surrey police force.

The trial is scheduled to end later this week.