The Surrey Police Vote campaign, which is collecting signatures in the hope of securing a referendum on the city’s policing transition, has filed a complaint against Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum with Elections BC, alleging “possible intimidation and interference” with its volunteers.
McCallum could not be immediately reached for comment. Darlene Bennett, organizer of the petition drive, has asked Elections BC to launch an investigation, alleging the mayor attempted to intimidate and interfere with authorized volunteers outside a South Surrey grocery store on Saturday, “threatening to have them evicted by Surrey bylaw enforcement officers.”
“Surrey Police Vote is asking Elections BC to investigate these very serious allegations of Mayor McCallum violating provisions of the Recall and Initiative Act designed to protect volunteers from intimidation and interference,” Bennett said in a written statement. “It would be unfair if any individual was intimidating or interfering with volunteers democratically petitioning government but if the Mayor of Surrey was found to be involved, that’s a whole different level of concern.”
Bennett’s husband Paul Bennett was shot dead in front of their home in Cloverdale in 2018 is what police believe was a case of mistaken identity. In May she filed an application with Elections BC seeking a binding referendum vote on whether the Surrey Police Service should replace the RCMP, under the B.C. Referendum Act, which permits the provincial government cabinet to order one.
In June Elections BC gave Bennett the green light to conduct her petition campaign, which must collect the signatures of at least 10 per cent of registered voters in all of B.C.’s 87 electoral districts, and submit them by Nov. 15.
Bennett said Wednesday that volunteers were on private property at the South Point Save-On-Foods store in South Surrey on Saturday, collecting signatures after getting permission from the store to do so. She claims McCallum allegedly spoke to store management trying to have the signature collection stopped.
The store’s manager was unavailable and an assistant manager declined to comment on the matter.
“We don’t answer any questions,” she told the Now-Leader, referring the matter to Save-On-Food’s media relations department. On Thursday it replied the grocery store “did not actively discourage” the petitioners from setting up outside the store because “management mistakenly believed they were obligated to provide this space under the Elections Act.
“In light of the recent controversy and in the interests of keeping our stores safe and orderly, we have asked this group to campaign elsewhere and we have made sure that our stores know that we will not allow any similar campaigning, of any sort, in the future,” its statement reads. “As it relates to the unfortunate incident with Mayor McCallum, we are providing full cooperation to the RCMP to aid in their investigation.”
Meantime, Bennett said Surrey Police Vote volunteers, many who are senior citizens and women – have seen Surrey by-law enforcement officers monitoring their signature collection efforts at other sites.
“We are asking Elections BC to investigate these allegations quickly, to get to the bottom of this and have it stopped if there is intimidation and interference by anyone, let alone municipal officials,” Bennett said. “We are exercising our democratic rights, we are getting a fantastic response from Surrey voters and we will not be intimidated by anyone.”
On the flip side, McCallum claimed on the weekend that he was “run over by a vehicle,” namely his foot, after speaking to residents collecting signatures for the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign on Saturday.
Coun. Allison Patton, of the mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition, characterized it on social media as “attempted murder.” She could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
In February 2020, a B.C. Supreme Court judge in Vancouver ordered the City of Surrey to stop ticketing Uber drivers. A month prior, McCallum vowed to deny ride-hailing companies business licences here. At the time, Coun. Brenda Locke called it a “dog and pony show” and former Surrey mayor Bob Bose charged that McCallum had “clearly over reached his authority and has exposed the City to potential damages.
“This is a policy issue, demanding council’s sanction,” Bose said.
Ivan Scott, an organizer of the Keep the RCMP campaign in Surrey, said in 2019 the city denied his group’s request to set up a petition booth at Surrey’s annual Canada Day event in Cloverdale but the group went anyway.
– with a file by Aaron Hinks