SURREY — A woman who fought tooth and nail to stop the City of Surrey from cutting down trees in Hawthorne Park says she will run as a council candidate in this fall’s Surrey civic election.
Roslyn Cassells, who is a former Green Party park commissioner in Vancouver, took the City of Surrey to BC Supreme Court in January, citing SARA (Species at Risk Act) violations against endangered species in Hawthorne Park.
She was unsuccessful in her bid when Justice T. Mark McEwan dismissed her petition to stop construction work.
Now, she said she hopes to effect change by shooting for a seat at the city’s council table.
“I think the City of Surrey is at a tipping point,” Cassells told the Now-Leader Friday morning. “I think the citizens are ready for a change.”
She pointed to the “uprising over Hawthorne Park’s destruction,” and “a number of other actions by local residents to stop destructive projects in their communities” and accused the current council of “basically ignoring the will of the people.”
If elected, Cassells said she hopes to bring social and environmental change to Surrey.
“I want to stop seeing the increasing divide between the rich and the poor and the terrible devastation that’s happening to nature,” she said. “The city of parks is becoming the city of parking lots.”
Cassells said she’d also like to see some civic buildings used to help the homeless.
“It would be great if we could turn some of the currently unused city buildings to meet the needs of the most marginalized in our society,” she added. “There’s enough buildings owned by the City of Surrey to house every single homeless person if they wanted to.”
Cassells said she hasn’t decided if she’ll run as an independent or with a slate.
“I would be quite happy to run with a group of like-minded people,” she said. “I think it’s really important we have some progressives on the next city council.”
In 2000, Cassells made headlines while serving on the Vancouver park board, including one titled “Chief seeks apology for attempt to stick officer with a doughnut,” from the Globe and Mail. The incident happened during a rally by the Vancouver Coalition Against Police Brutality.
It was reported she tried to stuff a doughnut into the mouth of a city policeman, and a letter from then-police chief Terry Blythe called the actions “infantile” and “below the threshold of acceptable behaviour for an elected park board commissioner.”
The Globe and Mail also reported Cassells said the policeman hit her in the arm, causing her to drop the doughnut.
Asked about the incident on Friday, Cassells said the officer was “taunting” ralliers and in an act of good faith, she asked if he wanted a muffin.
“He actually hit it out of my hand,” she said.
The Globe and Mail also reported that during her time on the Vancouver Park Board, Cassells brought a wounded bat to a meeting and called for an end to Stanley Park’s “evil petting zoo.”
Cassells told the Now-Leader she didn’t support the petting zoo because it was unfair to the animals to be “pawed at” and felt the board’s resources could be better spent elsewhere.
As for the bat, Cassells said she was known to bring animals, such as trapped feral cats, to meetings.
On that day, she said she trapped the bat after seeing it swept into traffic while riding the bus. She jumped off to rescue it.
“I jumped into the express lane, nearly got run over, and stopped traffic,” she said. After trapping it, she brought it to the park board meeting, where she was headed.
“I was always smuggling animals on the bus back then,” Cassells chuckled.
During a break in the meeting that evening, Cassells said she released the bat.
Cassells said her greatest accomplishments while on board were a “co-existing with coyotes” program and helping to launch a free bus through Stanley Park, which was since been cancelled.
Meantime, two new slates — Surrey Community Alliance (SCA) and People First Surrey — have materialized in Surrey that intend to challenge the reigning Surrey First party in the Oct. 20 civic election.
“People feel there is definitely a need for change,” according to Doug Elford, president of SCA, which replaces the former Surrey Civic Electors and Surrey Matters slates.
“They feel that eight years as a one-party system is not working to the satisfaction of neighbourhoods,” Elford added. “They want community minded people on council that are going to listen to the people of Surrey and not large business. Whether that’s the perception, that’s what people are saying — Surrey deserves better.”
The face of the People First Surrey party, Rajesh Jayaprakash, told the Now-Leader the party was born roughly a year and a half ago when some residents were “trying to understand the LRT.”
People First Surrey describes itself as a “non-traditional” election platform and takes “inspiration from (the reigning) Aam Aadmi Party of Delhi, India but their website states “we are in no way in touch with them or associated to them.”
Surrey voters will elect a new mayor this fall, following Mayor Linda Hepner’s April 11 announcement that she won’t seek re-election, citing a desire to spend more time with family.
At least four Surrey First councillors told the Now-Leader they’re eyeing a mayoral run, including Bruce Hayne, Tom Gill, Mike Starchuk and Vera LeFranc, but are dispelling rumours there is a divide in the party.
Surrey First is expected to reveal a slate, including a mayoral candidate, in the next few weeks.
Meantime, former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum and former Surrey First councillor Barinder Rasode — who both ran for mayor unsuccessfully in the 2014 civic election — won’t rule out a mayoral run.
Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, meanwhile, laughed off rumours of a comeback.
“No, I’m not running for mayor,” Watts told the Now-Leader. “Lots of rumours going around.”
Just over 100,000 people cast a ballot in Surrey in the 2014 civic election, up from 70,253 in 2011. Out of 287,940 eligible Surrey voters, the city said 101,558 cast a ballot – a 35.3 per cent voter turnout. That is up from 2008 and 2011 elections, which saw a 24.1 per cent and 25 per cent turnout respectively.
Surrey voters head to the polls on Oct. 20, 2018.