A view of Surrey City Hall. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

A view of Surrey City Hall. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Council Code of Conduct procedure could be tainted by bias and politics, Surrey council hears

Concern also expressed about council dealing with complaints behind closed doors

Surrey city councillors who aren’t part of the Safe Surrey Coalition majority have expressed concern that procedure related to the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw could be tainted by bias and politics and there needs to be more distance between council and the process itself.

Council on March 8 endorsed city staff recommendations governing procedures for ethics commissioner investigation reports once they are submitted by Surrey’s Ethics Commissioner Office (SECO). Under the bylaw, anyone who believes a council member has behaved in a way that contravenes the code can submit a complaint to SECO. If the complaint proceeds to an investigation, SECO will then submit a report to the city manager and council.

Council’s role under the code, according to the staff report that was endorsed, is to consider SECO’s investigation report in a meeting closed to the public and, “if there is a SECO determination of a contravention,” to decide what measures, if any, should be imposed for the contravention. “Following Council’s deliberations, a summary of the investigation report and Council’s decision regarding measures will be disclosed to the public in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FOIPPA”),” the report indicates.

Surrey Councillor Steven Pettigrew said while the concept of a code of ethics sounds good, he’s “still kind of waiting for it to kick in, so to speak.”

Pettigrew’s main concern is that council itself is “too close” to the matter. “Ultimately we’re policing ourselves and we make decisions to kind of punish or look after ourselves and I’m concerned about that. This doesn’t sit right with me.”

He said he would rather see the “code of ethics” matter transferred from city hall to the provincial government, particularly the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. “I think that’s where its final home should be and they’ll be not only looking after Surrey but all of British Columbia.”

READ ALSO: Surrey’s first ethics commissioner brings ‘objectivity’ to the job

READ ALSO: Surrey Council Code of Conduct gets final nod on five-yes, four-no vote

READ ALSO: Surrey council approves bylaw to establish ethics commissioner

Councillor Brenda Locke said decisions concerning infractions should not be decided by council in closed meetings. “To me the issue of bias and in some cases, dare I say, politics can taint the process and procedural fairness and the outcomes.”

She’s also concerned about frivolous and vexatious claims.

City manager Vince Lalonde said city staff is looking to make improvements to the bylaw that will come before council for consideration in the next few months. “Basically the system, the way it’s set up, is embedded in what’s allowed in the Community Charter and I believe the Community Charters says that council as a governing body is the body that will be deciding on such things,” Lalonde told council.

City lawyer Philip Huynh says council fundamentally has the power to govern its own processes and officers “and so it’s common” for city councils to be the ultimate authority for their code of conduct. “It is common for the commissioner to do the investigation to determine whether or not the breach has occurred under the code and for council to ultimately determine what to do with that,” Huynh noted.

The ethics commissioner, he added, has jurisdiction to dismiss frivolous and vexatious complaints summarily.

Councillor Linda Annis argued that the report should be sent back to staff for recommendations on when a complainant should stay in a meeting and when a complainant should be excused, but this failed on a five-to four-vote, with Safe Surrey Coalition carrying the day.

“This is an ever-changing document,” Annis said. “We are going to find things that need to be changed or addressed.”

Councillor Allison Patton said the concept of having an ethics commission is “about transparency” with the public and to help council members to be the best they can be.

“It wasn’t meant to be a policing process necessarily, it wasn’t meant to be a process where we were raising it to the province where we were hitting each other with a stick because we behaved badly,” Patton said. “It was meant to be restorative, reparative, and in a perfect world we’d have different behaviours than what we’ve experienced in these two years.”

Councillor Laurie Guerra noted that council members have had “plenty of opportunity to provide input ad nauseam” into this matter.

“I don’t know why we keep reinventing the wheel,” she said. “I don’t see the rationale for all the confusion and all the uncertainty around this. It’s simple to me – it’s very black and white to me. I know as an individual I hold myself to a much higher standard that what’s in the code of conduct.”


Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram  and follow Tom on Twitter

City of Surreyethicsethics complaint

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Marchers supporting Indian farmers rallied in Surrey last month, from Bear Creek Park to Holland Park along King George Boulevard. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey MP says mayor’s motion to support Indian farmers is his to make

“He has his own sovereignty, right,” Sukh Dhaliwal says

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions against new model; BCSS and its board in favour

Researchers say residents should leave sleeping bats alone while they exit hibernation. (Cathy Koot photo)
Spring ‘signal’ brings White Rock, Surrey bats out of hibernation

Community Bat Programs of BC says it’s best to leave sleeping bats alone

(Photo: Creative Outlet)
YOUR MONEY: Tax tips for a complicated tax season involving CERB and more

With April 30 tax deadline, ‘it is important to understand the tax implications (benefits) will have’

The Delta Police Department’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit: (from left) Const. Joel Thirsk, analyst Jody Johnson and Staff Sgt. Sukh Sidhu. (Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police respond to rising number of hate crimes

Police have received 15 reports so far in 2021, compared to 12 in all of 2020

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Dr. Bonnie Henry – in a B.C. health order that went into effect April 12 – granted WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce workplace closures with COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
24 workplace closures being enforced in Fraser Health under new COVID-19 order

WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce closures if COVID-19 has spread to 3 or more employees

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue were conducting training operations at Gold Creek Falls when a firefighter broke their leg. (Eileen Robinson photo - Special to The News)
Firefighter suffers broken leg during swift water rescue practice in Golden Ears park

A training exercise at Maple Ridge waterfall on Wedesday results in mishap

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller said it would be “very challenging and not very safe” for him and his teammates to play as scheduled on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks’ return to ice postponed again after players voice COVID health concerns

Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was called off after the team met virtually with the NHLPA

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, Minister Responsible for Housing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. announces $2B for affordable, middle-income family home projects

New HousingHub financing funds will encourage developers, groups – with low-interest loans – to build affordable homes

Firefighters battled a wildfire on Mount Woodside near Harrison Mills on Wednesday, April 14. Seabird Island and B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters helped keep the blaze from spreading to brush, keeping it to roughly half a hectare. (Photo/Agassiz Fire Department)
Agassiz, Seabird Island firefighters contain wildfire

Half-hectare fire among the first wildfires of the year

Most Read