Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum will be campaigning for re-election with a criminal trial hanging over him that is set to start two weeks after voters go to the polls on Oct. 15.
McCallum’s trial on a single count of public mischief is scheduled to start Oct. 31, in Surrey provincial court, for seven days. The matter went before a Judicial Case Manager on Thursday (April 14) with no plea yet entered. The date is expected to be formally confirmed by the JCM today, April 21.
The mayor is charged with one count of public mischief contrary to Section 140(2) of the Criminal Code, stemming from an encounter last September between himself and a group that was gathering petition signatures outside the South Point Save-On-Foods store in South Surrey for a referendum on the policing transition. The mayor claimed a car ran over his foot.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for BC Prosecution Service, said that “generally speaking trial dates are set on the earliest dates that are available to the court, the Crown and defence.
“The Special Prosecutor will not be commenting on the specific process by which the trial dates were arrived at in this case,” he added.
The Now-Leader tried to reach McCallum for comment on whether he would have preferred his trial to be prior to the election but he did not reply by press time. The City of Surrey’s communications manager, Oliver Lum, stated Monday that the mayor “will not be commenting as the case is before the courts.”
The Crown is proceeding summarily. Criminal cases are prosecuted either by indictment, summarily or a hybrid of the two. Summary offences are the least serious of the three.
A person charged with an indictable offence is required to appear in court whereas someone accused of a summary offence is not, unless a judge says otherwise. A summary offence in B.C. is considered to be in the realm of petty crime and under the Criminal Code of Canada is the least serious type of offence.
After a 13-year break from the mayor’s chair, which he occupied from 1996 to 2005, McCallum was sworn in by a judge on Nov. 5, 2018 for his fourth term as Surrey’s mayor. McCallum is expected to run for a second consecutive term in office.
Coun. Laurie Guerra, seeking re-election with McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, declined to comment on “matters before the court.
“I believe Western liberal democracies are based on core tenets, one of the most prominent being the rule of law,” she said. “If we violate the principle that individuals are innocent until proven guilty what does that say about us?”
But Coun. Doug Elford, also running for re-election under the SSC banner, said while he can’t comment on the case and trial itself, he’d rather see McCallum’s trial held before the election. “Certainly my preference would be to have it prior to, to get it cleaned up. However, that’s the will of the system and there’s nothing I can really do to control it,” Elford said.
“Again, we’re at the mercy of the courts. As much as I’d really like to comment on things I really can’t because of the fact that it’s ongoing litigation.”
Meantime, Coun. Linda Annis, of Surrey First, says McCallum’s “Halloween trial is a nightmare for Surrey voters and taxpayers.
“Surrey voters and taxpayers are really scratching their heads about this whole thing,” Annis stated in a press release. “People cannot understand why this has taken so long, particularly since it boils down to one pretty simple question: Did Doug McCallum get run over by a car or not?
“Will voters be willing to re-elect someone who has been charged and won’t be found guilty or innocent until after they vote?” she questions. “It’s going to make for a pretty interesting election campaign.”
News of McCallum’s trial being set after the election came three days after the SSC majority on council, in a 5-3 vote, approved a controversial amendment to the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw that puts a moratorium on the city ethics commissioner processing any new complaints lodged against council members until after the Oct. 15 election, as of Tuesday, April 12.
Dr. Stewart Prest, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, told the Now-Leader on Monday that “it’s always disconcerting to see public officials moving to avoid scrutiny, particularly in the run-up to an election.”
As for the trial versus the election, Prest said, “Ideally, we should think of them separately – a legal process is going to be distinct from a political process. We can think about the implications for the political actor but we always want to make sure that the timing of the events, that they’re not connected. We could see times officials will want to have an issued resolved quickly, particularly if it’s a minor one, they don’t want that issue hanging over their head.”
Is is better for a political candidate charged with a crime to have the matter play out in court before or after an election?
“Again, from the perspective of the candidate I think it depends on the severity of the issue,” Prest said. If it’s a minor issue, he added, “I think they’d probably want to have it dealt with quickly.”
“It is an unusual situation. I think in this case the voters are going to have to go to the polls knowing that there is a possibility there, in knowing that’s something that could very much return and dominate the mayor’s attention after the election. It’s something the voters will I’m sure be reminded of and is something they will want to think about as well.”