A Vancouver-based businessman who played a key role in Mayor Doug McCallum’s two previous election campaigns is suing Surrey Councillor Jack Hundial for defamation.
The lawsuit centres on comments made by Hundial at a Sept. 16 council in which he asked questions about Cheema’s apparent attendance at a Nov. 2, 2018 meeting between McCallum and the Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, according to the minister’s online itinerary.
Hundial asked that city staff advise council at its next meeting in what capacity Cheema attended, why he was present, and what advice he provided at the meeting. He also asked why the mayor’s personal friend, with no official status with the City of Surrey, would meet with the solicitor general, noting the topic of the meeting was listed as traffic fine revenue sharing.
In a Notice of Civil Claim filed Oct. 4, Cheema alleges Hundial’s assertions implied he was of “unethical, dishonest and of disreputable character” and denies being at the meeting in question.
“Prior to tabling the Motion and publishing the Statement, Hundial failed to verify whether the plaintiff was present at the Meeting,” the suit states.
The day after Hundial raised the comments, Farnworth’s office told the Now-Leader via email that the minister “did not meet with Bob Cheema.”
“Mr. Cheema’s name was referenced in the calendar as he was the one who reached out to book the meeting during the interim period that Mr McCallum was Mayor-elect,” the statement read.
The mayor also denied Cheema’s attendance, saying any suggestion he was is “categorically false” and that Cheema “has never been present at any meetings I’ve had with the minister.”
Cheema argues that by reason of Hundial publishing the motion and making comments to the media he “has been exposed to public scandal and contempt, all of which have caused him personal embarrassment, distress and humiliation.”
He also takes issue with Hundial “implicating” him “in a dispute about municipal politics and public policy” in Surrey.
Cheema’s suit states he asked Hundial, through his lawer, to apologize and retract his comments but that Hundial has not agreed.
Cheema is seeking an injuction to restrain Hundial from speaking to the media, writing, or posting any further comments in the matter. He’s also seeking general, punitive and aggravated damages, arguing “the malicious, high-handed and arrogant conduct of Hundial” warrants it.
Hundial has 21 days from Oct. 4 to file a response, which he had not yet done as of Oct. 9.
“If Mr. Cheema is seeking an apology, he should perhaps take it up with Minister Farnworth or those responsible for posting his schedule with incorrect information,” Hundial said in a statement to the Now-Leader. “Regardless, the underlying question is still in what capacity is an unelected, non City of Surrey employee who is not a registered lobbyist arranging meetings for government officials. And why is Mr. Cheema, a Vancouver resident, continually sending defamation letters to Surrey residents who voice an opinion and are exercising their democratic rights of free speech in their local government.”
Hundial said any further comments he’ll make on the matter will come through his counsel.
Cheema played a key role in McCallum’s last two election campaigns and the mayor-elect thanked the businessman in his acceptance speech last October, referring to him as a friend.
Meantime, Cheema is also suing former Surrey city council candidate Brian Young for defamation over a series of tweets regarding his connection to the mayor.
Several tweets are mentioned in Cheema’s suit, including six sent by Young from this past May and one from April.
“Doug and Bob hide their hand picked police Chief who just happens to be a deputy chief at #vpd,” one tweet alleges. Several refer to Cheema as “#backroombob.”
“The Tweets are false and defamatory,” Cheema’s suit states.
The civil claim states Young’s tweets implied Cheema was “unethical, dishonest and of disreputable character” and “encourages, facilitates and supports the abuse of power by elected representatives of the City of Surrey.”
Cheema is seeking an injunction to stop Young from posting further comments, as well as general, punitive and aggravated damages.
The claim was filed on June 3 and Young’s response was submitted on June 24.
In his reponse to the suit, Young argues the statements constituted a comment on a matter of public interest and were based on fact and denies the tweets caused actual loss, damage or expense to Cheema.
He claims that “on or about August 2018” Cheema told him he had already picked the chief of police.
“The Defendant made the tweet on an occasion of qualified privilege,” Young’s response states. “The Defendant has a legal, moral and social right, duty and interest as being involved in the Mayor’s campaign and possessing information relating to the Surrey Police transition.”
Further, Young alleges Cheema said he spent over $300,000 on McCallum’s campaign and, that he said “I control the South Asian media by paying host to report my stories.”
Young alleges Cheema also said he “paid cleaning staff at Surrey city hall and they retrieved items from councillors garbage.”
On Aug. 9, Young submitted a Notice of Application seeking Cheema’s civil claim be struck.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.