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Surrey mayor does about-face on controversial Code of Conduct bylaw amendment

The bylaw amendment, if passed, would have suspended investigations into council members’ conduct from Jan. 31 until the new council is sworn into office after the Oct. 15 civic elections
Surrey City Hall. (File photo)

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has done an about-face on the expected introduction of a bylaw Monday night to amend the city’s Code of Conduct bylaw that has been slammed as authoritarian and draconian.

Surrey city council was to consider on Monday night an amendment to the Code of Conduct bylaw that if passed would have immediately blocked Surrey’s Ethics Commissioner from “processing and investigation of complaints” leading up to the Oct. 15 civic election.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum. (File photo)

But four hours before council’s Monday night meeting, set for 7 o’clock, McCallum issued a press statement indicating that at Monday’s Regular Council Land Use meeting at 5:30 p.m. he would introduce a motion to remove the proposed bylaw amendment from Monday night’s agenda. He did, and it was passed without debate.

“The work of the Ethics Commissioner is valuable and the misinformation circulating about the bylaw is unfortunate,” McCallum’s statement reads. “If the motion is approved by Council, I will ask the Ethics Commissioner to bring a report to a future open Council meeting for consideration on how to improve the bylaw. The goal is to strengthen the bylaw to ensure the Office of the Ethics Commissioner is not used for partisan purposes during the election period.”

Coun. Jack Hundial said Monday, before the land use meeting, that “regarding the mayor’s decision to pull this off the agenda, it should never have been on in the first place.

“This just speaks to his understanding of process and what the public expects,” Hundial told the Now-Leader. “This is not his bylaw, it belongs to the public and the public should have a say. The fact there was no accompanying corporate report speaks volumes. This was a right move on a wrong decision in the first place.”

Hundial told the Now-Leader on Friday this proposed bylaw amendment was not what he had in mind when he originally championed in 2019 the need to create a code of conduct and hire an ethics commissioner.

“I think it is clearly a tactic by McCallum and the majority to suspend any investigations moving forward from the public that may be coming in closer to election,” Hundial said. “It goes completely against the spirit and intent when I first introduced this into council and I think what’s happened is they can’t weaponize that office.”

READ ALSO UPDATE: Surrey council votes to hire ethics commissioner

If approved, Hundial said, the amendments would have essentially prevented the public from submitting any new complaints.

“I’m still seeking clarification on what’s happening with the existing complaints that are already in before the commissioner.”

Surrey Coun. Jack Hundial. (File photo)

The original bylaw is designed to regulate the conduct of council members, with its preamble stating, “Council Members are keepers of the public trust and must uphold the highest standards of ethical behaviour in order to build and inspire the public’s trust and confidence in local government.”

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

The proposed amendments that were expected to go before council on Jan. 31, and if passed to take effect that date, said the Commissioner “must suspend the processing of a complaint received regarding a Council Member under this Bylaw, including by suspending any investigations regarding the Council Member, in the period commencing on January 31, 2022 and ending on the day when the newly elected Council is sworn into office.”

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After a new council is sworn into office, it continues, complaints and investigations that were suspended “may then proceed in respect of a Council Member who has been re‐elected in the 2022 local general election.

“For clarity, complaints that have already been made to the Commissioner under this Bylaw prior to January 31, 2022, including investigations that are already underway, will continue to be processed by the Commissioner in accordance with this Bylaw,” it continues.

Meantime Bill Tieleman, a strategist with the Surrey Police Vote campaign, denounced the proposed amendments as draconian.

“It’s the kind of clampdown one would expect in an authoritarian country – not a B.C. municipality,” he said. “And worse yet, it’s unfortunately consistent with previous attempts by the mayor and his narrow majority to silence anyone who questions them.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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