B.C.’s Solicitor General denies that a Vancouver-based businessman who played a key role in Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s election campaign attended an official government meeting alongside the mayor in November.
Surrey Councillor Jack Hundial raised the issue in council chambers Monday (Sept. 16), after he learned that online records list Bob Cheema as having attended a meeting with McCallum and Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth on Nov. 2, 2018, three days prior to the new Surrey council being sworn in.
However, the Solicitor General’s office told the Now-Leader via email Tuesday morning 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.
During Monday night’s council meeting, Hundial introduced a motion asking the mayor and city staff for details surrounding the 2018 meeting.
Hundial said he was made aware of the meeting by members of the public “who directed me to the publicly posted schedule for Mr. (Mike) Farnworth.”
“That of course raises concerns,” Hundial told reporters after Monday night’s council meeting. “Why is an unelected official attending on behalf of the mayor? And did he in fact attend or not? That’s another question we need to ask. If he didn’t attend, that’s fine. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Hundial had 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.
After hearing Farnworth’s statement Tuesday, Hundial said he would “wait for the corporate report and let staff complete their work.”
“There is obviously a discrepancy of who attended and what is listed on the schedule,” Hundial added.
In an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon, McCallum said the claim that Hundial made is “categorically false.”
“Mr. Cheema has never been present at any meetings I’ve had with the minister,” McCallum’s statement added.
Cheema did not respond to the Now-Leader’s request for comment Tuesday morning.
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.
“He worked behind the scenes, all of those years and not only that during this campaign I do not think he slept at all for three months,” McCallum said in his acceptance speech, “and he always always gave support and he is a person that I don’t agree with a lot of the times and I have told him that. But still he respects that and truly he is a friend of mine and he’s the reason I’m sitting here today. I want everybody to thank very much Bob Cheema.”
Meantime, Cheema is 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.”
It also asserts Young has implied Cheema “supports the mayor of the City of Surrey in order to further his own financial interests.”
In his response, Young quotes McCallum’s Oct. 20 election night speech, in which the mayor thanks Bob Cheema and states he has worked with Cheema for up to 45 years.
“He worked behind the scenes, all of those years and not only that during this campaign I do not think he slept at all for three months,” McCallum said in his acceptance speech last October, “and he always always gave support and he is a person that I don’t agree with a lot of the times and I have told him that. But still he respects that and truly he is a friend of mine and he’s the reason I’m sitting here today. I want everybody to thank very much Bob Cheema.”
In his reponse to the suit, Young argues the statements constituted a comment on a matter of public interest and were based on fact.
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.”
Young denies the tweets caused actual loss, damage or expense to Cheema.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.