While we always aim to write stories worth remembering, there are those that especially stand out.
There is of course an element of subjectivity as to what constitutes a memorable story. Some appear elsewhere in this issue of the Now-Leader, and those presented below by no means comprise an exhaustive list. That said, here are six stories that certainly “had legs,” as they say, in 2018.
It’s an issue that’s been knocked about for many years, but 2018 saw the nature of the relationship between this city and the RCMP – our police force since May 1, 1951 – come to a head.
The catalyst is Doug McCallum, who served as Surrey’s mayor from 1996 to 2005 when he was defeated by Dianne Watts.
Before July, when McCallum announced his intention to reclaim the mayor’s seat in the Oct. 20 civic election, the idea of Surrey forming its own police force was little more than a side issue courting some conjecture. Within a matter of months, facilitated by his election, with eight of nine council seats now occupied by his Safe Surrey Coalition, McCallum was in a position to bring this issue to the fore.
The very night the new council was sworn in, on Nov. 5, it served notice to higher levels of government the city will end its contract with Canada’s largest RCMP detachment to set up a new city force within two years, an ambitious deadline to say the least.
Mounties in red serge. (Photo: Dan Ferguson)
The impact this epic transition will have on Surrey, in terms of economy, public safety and sheer scope of the undertaking will be generating headlines for years to come. An RCMP-related transition of this scale is unprecedented. Terry Waterhouse, the bureaucrat tasked with overseeing it, told the Now-Leader that “a police-in-transition of this size has not happened before in Canada.”
The move has both champions and critics, but few are riding the fence.
Another issue that came to came to a boil this year was the ending of Surrey First’s pet project, light rail transit, again on the night of McCallum’s swearing in.
He instead intends to expand SkyTrain in Surrey to Langley. His old rival Watts, at her State of the City Address in March 2012, dismissed this as “far too expensive” and further, a bad idea as it would slice through Green Timbers forest, Surrey’s Agricultural Land Reserve, and cut “right through the middle” of Fleetwood’s town centre.
Building light rail transit in comparison, she argued, would be “cost effective and efficient.”
A rendering of Surrey’s once-planned LRT line. (Image: surrey.ca)
Watts did not seek re-election as mayor, embarking instead on a successful campaign to become the Tory MP for South Surrey-White Rock.
Her Surrey First successor, Linda Hepner, defeated McCallum in 2014 for the mayor’s seat and picked up the LRT torch from Watts, promising to see it through.
What followed was months and years of acrimonious public debate on the virtues and failings of SkyTrain versus LRT while Hepner and the Surrey First-dominated council increasingly took flak for its adamantine stance on seeing LRT through regardless of public dissent.
By this past June, the city’s vision for LRT had expanded to a spiders’ web of LRT lines, up to 150 kilometres’ worth, running through this city. Many years of dramatic build-up was effectively erased within minutes on Nov. 5, in the form of a motion council approved to abandon LRT in favour of SkyTrain. How McCallum and the Safe City Coalition fare in this high-stakes turnaround favouring SkyTrain expansion represents a story that will “have legs” for years to come.
Another especially memorable story in 2018 was, and still is, the Surrey RCMP’s investigation into widespread election fraud involving the city’s South Asian community connected with October’s civic election, spurred by Surrey anti-gang grassroots organization Wake Up Surrey lodging a complaint in late September alleging vote buying, misuse of absentee ballots and a scheme to solicit registered voters to fill out mail-in voting forms with a total target of 15,000 eligible voters.
Surrey’s Chief Election Officer Anthony Capuccinello Iraci, who raised his own concerns with police, set out to assure voters the integrity of the elections process remained intact.
“The deputy chief election officer and I had sufficient cause to suspect unlawful activity associated with the mail ballot voting process,” he told reporters.
Surrey’s Chief Election Officer Anthony Capuccinello Iraci. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Sukhi Sandhu, a leader of Wake Up Surrey, told the Now-Leader a “certain element in our community seems to think political participation is a ticket to financial wealth. Well maybe in the Third World it’s like that; not in Canada.”
Political candidates rallied during the election campaign to condemn election fraud.
McCallum was one of them.
“I think it’s terrible; it affects our whole democratic system,” he said a few weeks before election day. “To think who in the world would do something like that is really disturbing. I certainly would encourage the RCMP to move very quickly on this and try to get to the bottom,” he said.
“It’s important that the people of Surrey find out who’s behind this. It’s critical, and it just makes me sick to my stomach that somebody would ever do this in a campaign.”
Roughly a week before the election, Surrey Mounties said 67 of 73 vote-by-mail applications they’d examined were fraudulent but investigators had not found evidence linking any political candidate or slate to it. They also interviewed two “persons of interest” and said more investigation is required to determine if charges under the Criminal Code or Local Government Act are warranted.
“The investigation is still ongoing,” Sergeant Chad Greig said Friday, Dec. 28. “It’s still under investigation — no update.”
Meantime, in February Surrey was dragged into international news after a Sikh extremist found guilty of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986 was invited to attend a reception with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in India. The request for an invite went through Liberal MP Randeep Sarai’s constituency office in Surrey.
Jaspal Atwal was photographed posing with the prime minister’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, as well as Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi and Sonia Sidhu, Liberal MP for Brampton South.
As a result Sarai, MP for Surrey Centre, stepped down as chair of the Liberal Pacific Caucus.
Atwal in an unrelated matter is expected to be tried in June 2019 on a charge of uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm, stemming from an incident alleged to have occurred on April 23, 2018 in Surrey.
This past year also saw what many thought to be the unachievable in Whalley — the removal of Tent Row on 135A Street. This story of human suffering along this crime-ridden strip of road, which was populated with drug addicts and the homeless camped out there, dates back well before McCallum’s first tour as mayor. In 2003, he had street barriers set up to block traffic from accessing the street between 106th and 108th Avenues.
After years of hand-wringing by politicians, police intervention, social work and paramedics saving people from fatally overdosing on drugs, authorities in June cleared out roughly 80 tents occupied by an estimated 173 people from the sidewalk, relocating many of them to modular housing units and shelters nearby.
The verdict is still out on whether this move is a permanent fix or if the human tragedy will re-manifest itself on 135A.
Our sixth most memorable story, though on a much lighter note, also involves the controversial occupation of a neighbourhood — by peacocks, in Sullivan Heights.
The peacocks had been roosting there for about a decade; refugees, as it were, from a hobby farm that closed down.
Their presence set neighbour against neighbour, with some delighting in the colourful exotic birds and others fed up with their noise, mess, and damaging of parked vehicles.
A peacock expert from Iowa who helped Hugh Hefner deal with some problem birds at the Playboy Mansion in California said he’d help Surrey for a fee.
Dennis Fett, aka Mr. Peacock, charges $1,500 a day plus expenses for his services. But the City of Surrey — which had looked to Florida and Hawaii for advice — did not take him up on his offer.
In June city council determined to have the 100-or-so birds caught and relocated to the Surrey Animal Resource Centre — with trapping set to commence this past September.