Ex-mayor McCallum cleared of mischief, in case behind political storm in Surrey, B.C.

Ex-mayor McCallum cleared of mischief, in case behind political storm in Surrey, B.C.
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum reads a brief statement outside provincial court after being found not guilty of public mischief, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022.

Doug McCallum, the former mayor of Surrey, B.C., has emerged victorious from a criminal case that became entwined with his political fate, five weeks after losing his bid for re-election.

He thanked his family for their support, his lawyers for their “tremendous efforts” and the media for their “sensitivity” after a provincial court judge found him not guilty of public mischief Monday.

“And to the people of Surrey, I love you. I love all of you,” he said in brief remarks outside the courthouse.

McCallum was charged after telling police that a woman opposed to his plans to replace the Surrey RCMP with a municipal police force used her car to run over his foot in a grocery store parking lot last year.

Police declined to charge Debi Johnstone after the Sept. 4, 2021, confrontation, and instead investigated McCallum for allegedly making a false claim.

The case became a focus for critics of McCallum in campaigning for the Oct. 15 municipal election.

But Judge Reginald Harris said he found Johnstone’s testimony unreliable when she said she didn’t run over McCallum’s foot.

Harris said his verdict hinged on whether McCallum intentionally misled police and, if so, whether he intended for Johnstone to be suspected of a crime she did not commit.

Harris said although video showed McCallum was not “pinned” by Johnstone’s car, as the former mayor had said, he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that McCallum’s foot had been run over.

“In my view, there’s ample objectively verifiable evidence affirming Mr. McCallum’s assertion regarding his foot. Thus, I conclude his statements on this point are reliable and true.”

McCallum’s lawyers said during the trial that his statements about being “pinned” by Johnstone’s vehicle were “embellishments” due to confusion following a frightening incident.

The judge agreed.

“I concluded fear and stress of the interaction likely distorted memory,” Harris said.

He said McCallum’s pursuit of an investigation of Johnstone had been consistent with what McCallum had experienced.

Harris said he had “collectively considered” McCallum’s similar experiences as mayor, his age, how Johnstone approached him in her car, the “intensity of the interaction” that ensued and McCallum’s suggestion to police to obtain the video of the interaction.

“Logically, he would not have suggested to the police to try and get a video of the event if he was intentionally misleading,” Harris said.

McCallum, now 78, appeared to have tears in his eyes after the verdict was announced in court. He smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign to his daughter, who was sitting with former city councillor Laurie Guerra in the gallery.

“They’ve been through so much,” Guerra said outside the courthouse following the decision. “I’ve been through so much. Everybody that supported our Surrey police service from the get-go have been through hell and back trying to stand up just for that.”

Guerra said she, like McCallum, had faced “harassment” from those who opposed the plans to replace the Surrey RCMP.

“It shouldn’t be that way. I didn’t sign up for that when I signed up to run for public office, and I’m just really thrilled that the outcome today was exactly what I hoped and thought that it would be,” she said.

Guerra said the trial changed the narrative of the events so McCallum’s “name would be tarnished” and she believes it affected their electoral prospects in the last election.

The trial began two weeks after McCallum’s bid for another term as mayor was ended by Brenda Locke, who successfully ran on a promise to reverse the transition to the newly created Surrey Police Service.

Locke said in a statement that the city will continue to explore its options over the payment of McCallum’s legal bills and that an update was expected in the next few weeks.

“I will also be asking for a review of the indemnification bylaw so it can be improved to ensure this won’t happen again,” Locke’s statement said.

Locke had said earlier that the city would not pay for McCallum’s lawyers.

Guerra, who also lost her bid for re-election, said she would like to see an investigation into how the case was handled.

“I think there should be an investigation as to why a case like this, that didn’t have that threshold, in my opinion, was investigated to begin with, if it wasn’t just for the fact that this mayor was replacing the RCMP,” she said. “I don’t know what other reason there would have been.”

In Canada, the maximum punishment for committing the crime of public mischief is five years in jail.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2022.

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian PressBrieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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