Surrey council decided Monday to rescind a controversial aspect of its new Council Code of Conduct bylaw after a Surrey woman lodged a complaint with Deb Schulte, federal minister of seniors, and other provincial and federal politicians, claiming it discriminated against people over the age of 75.
“I am a senior of years beyond the age defined in this bylaw,” said Annie Kaps, 82, a retired bookkeeper from Cedar Hills. She maintained the bylaw “leaves me and all City of Surrey Citizens beyond age 75 open to age discrimination, contravening our protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Council voted to remove the age clause on Monday night (April 20).
The bylaw, initially approved by council on April 6, establishes a code of ethical conduct for members of council, and how it is to be administered by a yet-to-be announced ethics commissioner.
The bylaw’s “bully and harass” definition includes “any conduct” contrary to the City’s Respectful Workplace Policy and “any unwelcome or objectionable conduct or comment that would be considered discriminatory under the Human Rights Code if the conduct or comment was in respect of the following prohibited grounds,” which covers such things as race, physical and mental disability, religion, sex, political belief, marital status, conviction for an offence, colour, ancestry, sexual orientation, family status, and, until Monday, also included “age (19 to 75 years).”
Kaps noted that the B.C.’s Human Rights Code says “age” under its auspices “means an age of 19 years or more.”
Interestingly, Mayor Doug McCallum reportedly turned 76 on Sunday.
Councillor Steven Pettigrew asked council on April 6 for a “friendly amendment” to have the age range struck, but McCallum would not permit it.
“This bylaw looks good on paper and I agree with the principals contained within it. But I do have very strong concerns about the abuse of this bylaw by a majority government. Only time will tell if this bylaw will be applied in a non-partisan and unbiased way,” Pettigrew told council. “I don’t want to potentially penalize people that are over 75 years old, or people that are under 19 years old, to have any sort of discrimination.”
McCallum deferred it to the city lawyer.
“I’ll go to our lawyer on that, so the public recognizes we’ve had at least four sessions of council to make any changes council wanted to make on this and I think bringing it up at the last minute is probably not a friendly amendment because you had lots of opportunity to bring it up in the four or five sessions we had before,” the mayor told Pettigrew.
“I did mention this during the four or five times you mentioned in the past, I want to bring it forth again because I believe that strongly about it. This was not the first time I brought it up,” he said.
City lawyer Philip Huynh told council the age range of 19 to 75 is consistent with other human rights codes and case law in British Columbia.
“Nineteen is the age of majority, so those under 19 are by law often treated differently. Similarly, 75 was used as a cut-off because codes across Canada have used 75 as a cutoff and that’s also recognized as a cutoff under the case law in the province,” he said.
Councillor Linda Annis told the Now-Leader she “totally” agrees with Pettigrew “because that’s, to me, age discrimination, not allowing people over the age of 75 to be able to participate as the ethics commissioner or on the board.”
As for the mayor, she said, because of his age, under the bylaw, “he couldn’t participate, theoretically – he would be discriminated against, and that’s not right. We shouldn’t be discriminating against anyone based on race, age, ethnicity, none of that. That’s not what good Canadians do.
“I’m not sure why that was in there, that sure shouldn’t have been.”
Councillor Jack Hundial said April 6 he is “extremely supportive” of Surrey’s new Council Code of Conduct.
“The fact that we’re probably one of the first few cities to update our code of conduct I think speaks volumes in the direction we’re going and certainly with the in-coming ethics commissioner I think it adds a great addition, really, to allow for more transparency and better governance in the City of Surrey,” Hundial said.
This past Monday, Councillor Laurie Guerra noted that the B.C. Human Rights Code supersedes Surrey’s Council Code of Conduct “so there’s no way anybody would be discriminated against because of their age.”
Still, she said, “I think it’s vital we get this right from the get-go, if nothing more than to avoid confusion,” and argued for the age element to be eliminated.
McCallum replied, “If you’re all saying the same thing, then I’ll made a suggestion how we can get it changed.”
City lawyer Philip Huynh commented that removal of the age “parenthetical” would bring the city’s code in line with the human rights laws.
Hundial questioned Monday why there hasn’t been a public hearing on the bylaw and after “reflecting” now harbours concerns and is no longer comfortable with voting on it for approval as is.
“Councillor Pettigrew raised a really good point last time that perhaps there should be more than just a majority of council when it come to assessing every level to the next level of sanction.”
Council gave the bylaw third reading approval, with the age change, but it has yet to win final approval.
McCallum said that “if certain council members feel that we need to make changes in the future we can certainly bring motions to amend those particular ones to satisfy what council wants.”
Pettigrew said he’s “glad that council is considering this much more seriously this time. We need to look after our seniors and our young people for all the reasons that were stated.”