Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who is facing one count of public mischief, has defended the city’s decision to fund his legal bills and insists that his work at City Hall has not been disrupted.
“It speeded me up,” McCallum said of his charge Tuesday morning. “We’ve speeded our process up, we’re going to be putting in more officers on the streets than we originally thought.”
McCallum was charged with one count of public mischief on Friday, Dec. 10.
The charge stems from a confrontation at the South Point Save-On-Foods on Sept. 4. After the incident, the mayor told media he was “run over by a vehicle” after speaking to a group of residents collecting signatures for the Elections BC-authorized Surrey Police Vote Petition. McCallum’s claim that his foot was run over was immediately disputed by the people that were collecting signatures.
The mayor confirmed that taxpayers will be paying for his legal defence due to city bylaw 15912. The bylaw states, in part, that councillors should have their legal costs covered if the case is “in connection with the exercise or intended exercise of the person’s powers or the performance or intended performance of the person’s duties or functions.”
The Save-On-Foods confrontation happened while McCallum was out grocery shopping, he said shortly after the incident.
“A lot of mayors and councillors have their legal bills paid for by the city for different legal matters,” McCallum said. “It’s pretty common for all cities, to be honest with you, that the legal bills are paid for anybody that’s a member of council, in most cities, if not all cities.”
In 2015, McCallum was critical of a city decision to fund a civil court case involving then Coun. Tom Gill.
Gill was sued by Surrey businessman Harjit Atwal over comments Gill made to the Surrey Leader about a violent 2010 incident involving a family member, prominent Surrey broadcaster Maninder Gill.
McCallum, at the time, said taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for Tom’s defence because he didn’t believe it fell under the performance or exercise of duties of the councillor.
But McCallum’s situation, he indicated, is different.
“I think it depends on what they are for. Again, I can’t go into that part of it but it does depend on what the issue is and so forth,” McCallum said.
“I’m not going to go into any discussion on that only because it’s a legal matter right at the current time.”
Couns. Linda Annis and Jack Hundial both expressed frustration that the city is paying for McCallum’s defence.
“To the majority of the taxpayers, it’s outrageous,” Hundial said, adding that it’s the “worst example” of a politician misusing public funds.
“This is why people hate politicians.”
Annis said she asked the city how much McCallum’s legal defence is to cost on an hourly or weekly basis, and was told that information is privileged.
“To me, that’s really troubling because at the end of the day, if the residents and taxpayers are paying the legal bills, they have every right to know what the cost of those legal bills are,” Annis said.
McCallum hired one of the country’s leading criminal defence lawyers, Richard Peck.
Peck most recently represented billionaire Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in her extradition case.
“I have good lawyers so we’ll let the process go,” McCallum said.
According to UBC criminal law professor Janine Benedet, a public mischief charge isn’t uncommon in Canadian courts, but it is uncommon for someone to be charged exclusively with pubic mischief.
“So what happens quite often is that people are charged with theft, or fraud, and public mischief. For example, that would happen when someone lies and says their car is stolen in order to make a false insurance claim. As part of that they make a fake report to the police. That actually happens quite a bit,” Benedet said.
According to the Criminal Code, a person found guilty of public mischief is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
However, Benedet said, sentences tend to widely range depending on a number of factors, including severity of crime, intent, victim impact and criminal history.
“There have been cases where people have gotten a penitentiary sentence, like more than two years,” she said.
The heavier sentences, Benedet said, is often reserved for more serious cases or repeat offenders, particularly if someone’s safety is put at risk. Lesser sentences include probation, community service, or a fine.
“It’s an offence that gives you a real criminal record. It’s significant in that, but it really is a wide range.”
As for McCallum’s case, Benedet said she struggled to find an example in Canadian law that’s comparable.
“It’s a high profile figure currently in office. I don’t really understand what the motivation would be for doing that… It’s fairly extraordinary,” she said.
In addition to making a police report about his foot allegedly being run over, McCallum also made a claim with ICBC.
If the mayor is found guilty of making false statements to police about his foot being run over, he could be open to fraud charges if he received money from a false ICBC report, said Benedet.
“If you made a false report to the police and you made a false report to ICBC that resulted in you getting some money that you weren’t entitled to, sure, you could definitely be convicted of both of those things,” Benedet said.
However, McCallum said that his ICBC report has since been closed.
“All they did was a notification and they actually phoned me a number of weeks ago and said if they don’t hear back from me, they will just close the account. It’s since been closed,” McCallum said.
Calls to resign from police board
Annis said it’s “troubling” that the mayor is chairman of the Surrey Police Board while being formally charged with a crime.
“That feels like a conflict,” Annis said.
Annis said she also thinks the mayor should take a leave of absence from his mayoral duties, but not resign.
Hundial suggested that if it had been a frontline Surrey Police Service officer or another SPS employee that was charged with a crime, they would be asked to step away.
“For McCallum, in the interest of integrity and really for the public to maintain that high level of ethical standards, he should step down,” Hundial said.
McCallum, however, said he has no intention of stepping aside from either his mayoral or chairman duties.
“I’m not,” McCallum said. “In fact, I got 100 per cent support from the board and I got 100 per cent, or at least support from the majority, of our council. So no, I’m carrying on. In fact, I’m working harder. I’m going to be working a lot harder for the people of Surrey to get things done.”
McCallum’s first court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 25.