Mischief charge against B.C. mayor leads to call for municipal integrity commissioner

·3 min read
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum holds a news conference in Holland Park in Surrey, British Columbia on Tuesday, October 27, 2020. He was charged with one count of public mischief in December and his trial is scheduled to begin at the end of October 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum holds a news conference in Holland Park in Surrey, British Columbia on Tuesday, October 27, 2020. He was charged with one count of public mischief in December and his trial is scheduled to begin at the end of October 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The mayor of Surrey is set to go on trial for alleged public mischief this fall, and the situation has fired up another elected civic official who says the provincial government can, and should, be doing more to hold municipal leaders to account.

The charge relates to allegations of false statements being made with the intention of misleading police officers.

Mayor Doug McCallum was charged with one count in December after he filed a police report claiming he was struck by a car in a grocery store parking lot by Debi Johnstone — one of seven opponents of the mayor's plans for a municipal police force who McCallum has banned from council meetings.

Johnstone maintains her innocence. None of the allegations against McCallum have been proven in court.

His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 31, a little more than two weeks after the municipal election, and while it is up to the courts to decide if he is guilty, New Westminster Coun. Mary Trentadue says it is just the latest example of why the province should create a municipal integrity commissioner.

Several provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, already have such a position.

"What I would like to see is the province be that third party that can step in and investigate any kinds of claims of wrongdoing or misconduct and can actually hold a council or an elected official to account. They can remove them," said Trentadue, speaking Thursday on CBC's The Early Edition.

LISTEN | New Westminster Coun. Mary Trentadue makes the case for a municipal integrity commissioner:

Province willing to work with municipal leaders

In April, the province introduced legislative amendments that give municipal governments and regional districts the power to put an elected official on paid leave when charged with a crime. The amendments also empower local governments to remove an elected official if they are convicted of an indictable offence.

Nathan Cullen, B.C.'s minister of municipal affairs, told The Early Edition Friday the province is willing to work with municipal leaders if they table the idea of a commissioner at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention this fall.

"I'm very encouraged by motions coming forward asking the government to do something further," said Cullen.

Trentadue, who has served two terms in New Westminster and is not running again, says she has been pushing for an integrity commissioner for three years and that while the McCallum charge has given the issue a sense of urgency, there are many other examples where civic leaders have degraded the public's confidence in elected officials.

"Things are going on behind closed doors, or in-camera as it's called in council, that the public doesn't know about, that is making it incredibly unsafe and difficult for elected officials to do their work. Things like bullying, harassment, blocking, it's terrible what goes on," she said.

While councils are encouraged by the province to have codes of conduct in place, Trentadue called this a "bit of a farce" because, she says, it's councillors policing themselves.

Cullen said he has heard similar stories about bullying and abusive behaviour behind closed doors. While a third party could be helpful, there is no silver bullet against what, in some cases, he says, are systemic problems that disproportionately impact women and equity-seeking groups.

"We have to change the culture."

LISTEN | Nathan Cullen, Minister of Municipal Affairs, responds to call for B.C. integrity commissioner:

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