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Province introduces amendments that will force politicians charged with crimes to take leave

Charged with public mischief, Surrey mayor’s pre-trial conference scheduled for Monday
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum. (Now-Leader file photo)

As Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum awaits his next court date to deal with his public mischief charge, the province has introduced legislative amendments that would force an elected official to take paid leave when charged with a criminal offence.

But the Ministry of Municipal Affairs confirmed with the Now-Leader that the proposed amendments would not be applied retroactively, meaning they wouldn’t affect Surrey’s mayor. The legislation will only apply to criminal charges laid after the legislation receives Royal Assent and comes into effect, the ministry told the Now-Leader.

McCallum 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.

A pre-trial conference is set for Monday (April 11) but the date for a trial, which is expected to run five days, will not be scheduled until after the PTC is concluded. The pre-trial conference will not be open to the public.

Surrey taxpayers will foot the bill for McCallum’s defence team, as part of section seven of Bylaw 15912.

Nathan Cullen, minister of municipal affairs, introduced the bill on Thursday (April 7).

‘“These changes are what municipal leaders have been calling for. These changes are what the public expects and these are changes we seek to implement,” he said.

It received first reading that morning. Cullen then made a motion for second reading at the next sitting, which passed.

Prior to introducing the bill, Cullen said, “Hopefully it will pass quite soon, so that we’re able to restore that public confidence that municipal leaders want and we all need.”

TIMELINE: Here’s a breakdown on Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum being charged

The province says the legislative changes would provide municipalities and regional districts in B.C. with two “separate but related” tools for circumstances where an elected official has been charged with or convicted of a criminal offence.

The first amendment makes a change to the existing disqualification rules to ensure that an elected official is disqualified at the time of conviction for an indictable offence, rather than at the time of sentencing.

The second will require an elected official be put on mandatory paid leave when charged with a criminal offence until the criminal process is complete or the charges are resolved.

The province says the amendments respond to adopted resolutions of the Union of BC Municipalities as well as concerns raised by local governments and citizens.

Surrey Coun. Linda Annis said this legislation is “absolutely needed.”

“I think when somebody is charged with a criminal offence — they’re not guilty but they’ve been charged — and I think they should step aside, and certainly be paid, but should be on leave. I would also say, if they have appointments, things like a police board that should also be handled in the same manner.”

Annis added the legislation is “way overdue.”

Coun. Brenda Locke agrees that the legislation is needed.

“I think the public has a right to and they deserve to believe in the institution of the city. Politicians … should be held at a higher regard and at a higher bar. When there is something that implicates them or causes their integrity to be in question, they need to step aside because it is a reflection of the office,” explained Locke, who is running for mayor with the Surrey Connect slate this October.

However, Locke said she thinks the provincial government is correct in choosing to not make the legislation apply retroactively.

“As much as I would like to say it would be retroactive in our situation in Surrey, realistically, I think it’s inappropriate for government to make that kind of legislation retroactive,” she noted.

The Now-Leader has reached out to the City of Surrey for comment and has yet to hear back.

Surrey’s next civic election is on Oct. 15, in which McCallum is expected to run for a second consecutive term in office.

– With files from Tom Zytaruk

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