If you were expecting Perry Mason, it didn’t happen.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s first date in Surrey provincial court Tuesday on a charge of public mischief lasted all of three minutes, with no plea taken.
Special Crown prosecutor Richard Fowler told courtroom 101 he plans to proceed summarily and asked that the matter be put over to Feb. 22, at 9:30 a.m.
“We have no intention today of taking a plea,” Fowler said.
Defence lawyer Lee Vandergust appeared on behalf of McCallum’s counsel, Richard Peck, QC. Fowler said disclosure was provided to defence counsel on Jan. 21.
Judge Robert Hamilton, regional administrative judge for the Fraser Region, said he decided to move the hearing to 101, Surrey provincial court’s largest courtroom, and is inclined to keep it there.
“There may be some public interest in this case so I’ve moved it into the biggest courtroom we’ve got here in Surrey that has a seating capacity of 16,” Hamilton explained.
McCallum is charged with one count of public mischief contrary to Section 140(2) of the Criminal Code.
The information, sworn on Friday, Dec. 10, stems from a bizarre encounter last September between McCallum and campaigners who were gathering petition signatures outside the South Point Save-On-Foods store in South Surrey for a referendum on the policing transition that resulted in the mayor claiming a car ran over his foot.
Hot on the heels of the charge being laid came demands for McCallum’s resignation as mayor and chairman of the Surrey Police Board. Many Surrey residents have expressed outrage that Surrey taxpayers are on the hook for his legal bills.
Surrey Police Vote, which campaigned unsuccessfully for a referendum on Surrey’s policing transition to the Surrey Police Service from the Surrey RCMP – a transition which McCallum has championed – are calling on the mayor to publicly disclose his legal bills related to this mischief charge.
“This is huge matter of public interest and concern,” said Surrey Police Vote campaign strategist Bill Tieleman. “Legal fees in general are not cheap and the mayor hired one of B.C.’s most expensive criminal defence lawyers to represent him. Every Surrey taxpayer deserves to know what this will cost them, and just as importantly, where the funds will come from.”
Meantime, South Surrey resident Ivan Scott and other members of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign staged a “small and strong” rally outside the courthouse while the proceedings were underway.
“We’re just out there to show our displeasure, and show our support for the Crown,” Scott said. “Surrey, I think, is holding its breath that justice will prevail.”
Surrey taxpayers having to pay for McCallum’s legal fees is one reason the KTRIS campaign planned the rally, said Paul Daynes, the campaign manager and strategist.
“We want to send a message that we feel that (it) is totally inappropriate for the taxpayer to be funding Mayor McCallum’s defence in this case, whether he’s guilty or not is for the court to determine, but the incident clearly took place on his time, not city time,” explained Daynes.
Asked how it felt to be there on the day of McCallum’s first court appearance, Daynes said, “The wheels of justice grind slowly, but it’s encouraging that they are actually moving now. We hope that this will be resolved and things can move on in a little bit more common-sense fashion.”
There were about a dozen or so KTRIS protesters outside of court over the course of an hour, leading up to McCallum’s appearance.
The signs mostly called for McCallum to pay his own legal fees, including one that said he should “foot” his own bill.
McCallum, 77, is not the first Surrey mayor to be charged with a crime.
In 1995, a charge of theft under $5,000 was stayed by the Crown against former Surrey mayor Don Ross, who at age 64 was arrested by a security guard for allegedly pocketing a rubber washer from a Surrey Lumberland Store on Fraser Highway. He pleaded not guilty. Ross was Surrey’s mayor from 1979 to 1987. He died in 2001.
Also in 1995, a provincial court judge fined former Surrey mayor Ed McKitka $23,000 for dumping Blue Box recyclables on farm fields in Cloverdale. In 1977, a judge ordered McKitka to pay $5,000 in damages and legal costs for “wanton and irresponsible slander,” and in 1980 he was convicted of breach of trust and was sentenced to three years in prison.
McKitka served for nine years on Surrey municipal council and was mayor for one term before being defeated by Bill Vogel, in November 1977, for the mayor’s chair. McKitka died in 2014 at age 79, when his Jeep went off Highway 1 near the Vedder Canal in a single-vehicle crash.
– with files by Lauren Collins