Surrey councillors vote to freeze new ethics complaints until after election

Click to play video: 'Surrey city council to consider freezing new ethics complaints until fall election' Surrey city council to consider freezing new ethics complaints until fall election
A controversial bylaw amendment intended to prevent the Surrey's ethics commissioner from hearing new complaints until after the next municipal election is heading back to city council Monday. Christa Dao has a preview – Apr 11, 2022

Starting Tuesday, the City of Surrey will no longer hear ethics complaints until after the civic election this fall.

Councillors voted five to three in favour of freezing all ethics complaints and investigations by the ethics commissioner until after the Oct. 15 vote.

Mayor Doug McCallum and members of his Safe Surrey Coalition voted in favour of the move, edging out councillors Brenda Locke, Linda Annis and Jack Hundial.

Locke said that a six-month moratorium is too long and a 90-day freeze would better align with other jurisdictions in the province.

This suggestion to freeze ethics complaints was initially up for a vote on Jan. 31, but McCallum introduced a motion to remove it from the Jan. 31 agenda just hours before the meeting began.

The amendment reappeared on the April 11 agenda, described as “a bylaw to clarify the Ethics Commissioner’s jurisdiction, to clarify rules of ethical conduct and to align the bylaw with related policies and procedures.”

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Read more: Surrey’s proposed amendment freezing new ethics complaints removed from agenda

Now this vote has passed, the Surrey Ethics Commissioners Office will not be able to process new complaints between April 12 of the year of a general local election and the day Surrey voters hit the ballot box.

“Normally in other communities where they have similar types of processes set up, there is a sort of moratorium period prior to an election, which is normally about 90 days,” Hundial explained.

“In this case, they’re proposing perhaps limiting it to six months out from an election and yet we have a mayor who’s criminally charged before the courts right now.”

Click to play video: 'Doug McCallum pre-trial conference to be held Monday' Doug McCallum pre-trial conference to be held Monday
Doug McCallum pre-trial conference to be held Monday – Apr 11, 2022

McCallum’s office has not yet returned a request for comment on this story.

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When he moved to drop the bylaw amendment from the agenda in January, the mayor said the goal of the change was to ensure the Surrey Ethics Commissioner Office could not be used for partisan purposes during the election period.

The proposal had, however, drawn backlash both from voters and councillors.

“The work of the Ethics Commissioner is valuable and the misinformation circulating about the bylaw is unfortunate,” McCallum said in a Jan. 31 statement.

Read more: Pre-trial conference for Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum held in Prince George

The proposed amendment first surfaced as the embattled mayor faces an ethics complaint about staying on as chair of the Surrey Police Service board while charged with public mischief.

That investigation will continue and would have even if the amendment had been approved.

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In a previously emailed statement, ethics commissioner Reece Harding said he would respect the council’s process.

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“As such, I do not believe it is currently appropriate for me to comment on this bylaw amendment,” he wrote on Jan. 31.

Read more: Surrey council to consider freezing new ethics complaints until fall election

McCallum’s public mischief charge stemmed from an investigation into his claims that someone ran over his foot at a Save-On-Foods parking lot during an altercation with opponents of the city’s police transition last September.

McCallum has previously declined to comment on that matter while it’s before the courts.

With files from Simon Little

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