While it’s no secret Mayor Doug McCallum and the Surrey RCMP have historically not seen eye-to-eye on several fronts, their fractious relationship was again thrust to the fore this week in the form of a letter to the editor – also circulating on social media – by a retired senior Mountie and former acting officer in charge of the detachment.
Retired RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre, a 39-year veteran of the force, was the Surrey RCMP’s operations officer from July 1999 to July 2001, during McCallum’s second term as mayor. He also served as the detachment’s acting officer-in-charge.
“We had quite a ride of it back in the day when dealing with him,” Macintyre wrote. “If the walls could only speak.”
Every story, of course, has at least two sides.
We reached out to McCallum for comment via text message, his office phone line and the City of Surrey’s communications department, without success.
We tried Monday, and on Tuesday before press deadline.
“The mayor has no comment,” Amber Stowe, of City of Surrey communications, confirmed Tuesday in an email.
Macintyre wrote: “In our dealings with him back then, it was always about the power, control and the ability to influence. There was a Public Safety Committee, but in my view he just paid it lip service and gave directions and exercised decisions from the hip either personally or via his CAO.
“He would sometimes come into Public Safety Committee meetings, stand there and make statements and quasi directions and then leave. No decorum and no discussion. The PSC Chairperson would just look over and shake her head. He must figure that when he has his hands on the entire police force as the Chair of the Police Board that it will be all ‘sunshine, wide roads and shallow ditches’ with everything going his way. I truly believe he wants all of the ‘launch codes’ to himself.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum. (File photo)
Some might wonder what spurred Macintyre to publicly step into the fray now, considering the mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition campaigned in 2018 to swap out the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up a city police force. It’s a promise council made good on at its inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th of 2018, when it served notice to the provincial and federal governments it is ending its contract with the RCMP.
“I have heard comments attributed to McCallum that he wants police officers who are invested in and connected to the community,” Macintyre wrote in his letter.
“When I was in Surrey I served on local boards of governance, my wife taught in the Surrey School District and our kids went to school in Surrey and later worked in Surrey.
“When little Heather Thomas was abducted in Cloverdale, where we lived, I was out on my own time looking for her. Is that the connection or investment he was looking for? And what about the several members of the RCMP who have given their lives while serving the citizens of Surrey. Is that not invested or connected to the community enough for the Mayor?”
In an interview with the Now-Leader on Monday, Macintyre said he takes umbrage “not so much if Surrey goes its own way with its own police department, that’s not my issue, but not at the expense of belittling and berating the RCMP – that was my issue.”
“That’s when it got personal.”
Macintyre characterizes as “bovine scat” the notion that Surrey Mounties best serve rural rather than urban communities, and questions why, “if McCallum thought the RCMP were not suited for municipal policing, why on earth would he then be so intent and reliant on hiring as many RCMP members as he can to create his own SPD?”
Macintyre said when he left the Surrey detachment, McCallum was “still the mayor for a while. In fact, I would deal with him once in a while, I became the Lower Mainland District Commander.”
The retired senior Mountie questioned, in his letter, “what it was that put the RCMP in McCallum’s crosshairs?”
Macintyre recalled in his letter the detachment putting out a press release on a “very bad injury MVA” at 184th Street and Highway 10.
“Mayor McCallum called over and asked what was the purpose in sending out this negative to Surrey news release,” he claimed.
“It was explained to him that it was to alert motorists via the media that traffic was not moving and to stay clear and pick another route. He hung up.”
Macintyre told the Now-Leader he didn’t recall the date.
“Or then there was the time his office called after a press release was issued about a bad guy that was dangerous to the public peace and told us not to send those out as it made Surrey look bad. We tried to explain the necessity in warning the public and we continued to send them out.”
He concedes the irony that, in January 2020, McCallum demanded that the Surrey RCMP release information about the “Marpole Rapist” after the Now-Leader revealed Gary Jagur Singh would be released into the city.
Still, Macintyre told the Now-Leader that McCallum “absolutely” tried to suppress information going out to the public from the RCMP.
“It was not so much pressing, phoning over in a questioning way as to why this was being released, how does this help?”
We asked the Surrey RCMP’s current media liaison officer, Corporal Elenore Sturko, if city hall has attempted to interfere with her releasing information to the public.
“No, never,” she replied. “I can’t really say that I know that, the OICs have always been in very close contact with the mayor and council and any kind of concerns that would just come up, they speak directly with him. He would be communicating with them and I’ve never communicated with him – I’ve met him only once.”
No trickle down?
“No, not for me, no,” she said. “Honestly, that’s never occurred.”
Dianne Watts, a former Surrey MP, served as Surrey’s mayor from 2005 to 2014, after defeating McCallum at the polls. She served as chairwoman of Surrey’s Public Safety Committee under his watch.
“Clearly, as it was publicly reported many years ago, there were certainly many issues in terms of the RCMP releasing the press releases, and his objection to those press releases was cause for concern by many,” Watts told the Now-Leader on Monday.
“There certainly were discussions about the regularity of press releases and that they shouldn’t be coming out daily or every other day, and he wanted them restricted, yes.”
Watts said she read Macintyre’s letter and considers it to be “an accurate accounting of what of occurred during that time.”
Asked if she’s concerned then that suppression of information will become more of an issue once a city police force is installed, Watts replied that there’s “two pieces to this.
“I mean, as the Police Act is put in place where there should not be any political interference and I think that certainly that should be followed. I think whether you have a Surrey police force or the RCMP, there’s measures in place that will not permit direct interference. But in the same context, I would be cautious about the information to the general public, in terms of ensuring openness and transparency, and this is the issue I think a number of residents have, is that there has been virtually no transparency around the cost, around the reasoning to dismantle a system like this.”
Watts said there’s “most definitely” a concern about the flow of information to the public under Surrey’s new police force.
While Macintyre’s letter once again brought the issue of information suppression to the fore, it was by no means a revelation.
I personally wrote a piece on it in September 2014, in the Surrey Now, under the headline “Police-muzzling accusations may still haunt McCallum.”
The analysis noted that roughly midway through his nine-year run as mayor from 1996 to 2005, McCallum was accused of leaning on the Surrey RCMP to suppress information it released to the public – in effect, trying to boost Surrey’s image by censoring press releases about crime in the city. McCallum denied this up and down, but still proffered a public apology of sorts.
Rumours led to finger-pointing and a flurry of newspaper headlines, like “RCMP asked to keep city’s crime woes under wraps,” “Mayor denies cop gag order: E-mail hints otherwise,” “Mayor denies trying to stop RCMP press releases on crime in the area,” “Keeping the lid on crime news,” “McCallum contacted RCMP about Surrey image,” “Surrey Mounties vow they won’t be gagged by mayor” and, finally, “Mayor sorry for meddling with police.”
Reporters and one local MP, Chuck Cadman, wondered why they weren’t receiving press releases from the RCMP about shootings and stabbings in Surrey, like before. Likewise, residents wondered why they weren’t reading in the newspapers stories about serious crimes they knew to have occurred in their neighbourhoods.
McCallum denied trying to muzzle the police but the RCMP media headquarters, which at that time was on Heather Street in Vancouver, claimed he had expressed concern that crime stories may frame Surrey in a negative light.
McCallum tried to end the controversy by reading out a statement at an open council meeting, in 2002.
“I am determined to see that Surrey receives due recognition and is fairly portrayed,” he said.
“If in my passionate pursuit of these goals I caused anyone to feel my actions were out of line, for that I am truly regretful.”