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Surrey bans ethics votes and investigations until fall election

Starting Tuesday, City of Surrey will suspend all ethics complaints and investigations.

Surrey City Councillor Linda Annis is worried that changes to the way the city’s ethics commissioner investigates will “lead to less transparency” in government.

Councillors voted five to three in favour of freezing all ethics complaints and investigations by the ethics commissioner until after the Oct. 15 vote.

Mayor Doug McCallum and his cornies, members of his Safe Surrey Coalition voted in favour of the move, edging out councillors Brenda Locke, Linda Annis and Jack Hundial.

The yes votes were place by Mayor Doug McCallum and 4 from members of Safe Surrey.

Locke said that a six-month moratorium is too long and a 90-day freeze would better align with other jurisdictions in the province.

This suggestion to freeze ethics complaints was initially up for a vote on Jan. 31, but McCallum introduced a motion to remove it from the Jan. 31 agenda just hours before the meeting began.

The amendment reappeared on the April 11 agenda, described as “a bylaw to clarify the Ethics Commissioner’s jurisdiction, to clarify rules of ethical conduct and to align the bylaw with related policies and procedures.”

What we learned today is the residents of Surrey can’t trust their current government

Once the amendment is approved, Surrey’s ethics commissioner, Reece Harding, will be unable to accept new complaints until the next municipal election.

Annis says stopping the intake of complaints to the Ethics Commissioner on April 12 is “completely inappropriate” and “not in the best interest of the residents.”

“It doesn’t allow them to voice their concerns if they think council members are acting inappropriately against the code of conduct and conversely, also for council members to ensure we’re all abiding by ethics,” she says.

Mayor Doug McCallum had proposed a motion for a moratorium on ethics investigations in January but then withdrew it before the council could consider the motion.

“If you refer back to our January council meeting, this very issue came up then and there was such backlash from the residents of Surrey that the mayor actually pulled it from the agenda item. And here we go again, presenting it just a few months later,” says Annis.

She believes the Ethics Commissioner should be allowed to do what he does best: overseeing and enforcing the councillors’ code of conduct.

Annis also opposes code of conduct reforms, stating that they will restrict the Ethics Commissioner’s access to documents discussed in closed council.

“There has been ongoing concern from the residents of Surrey, and not specifically just to the Ethics Commission and Code of Conduct, but about having an open and transparent Council, and this is just one more thing that I think residents of Surrey find very offensive,” she says.

One more change she disapproves of removes conflicts of interest for mayors or councillors and their families, friends, and businesses.

To Annis, “these changes look and feel like politicians are trying to avoid any kind of transparency prior to election day.”

In a recording of the council meeting on April 11, Councillor Brenda Locke also weighed in.

“The issue of the integrity of this place and the whole issue around public access should be open and fluid to the public. This is their house. This is their information, after all, and I think protecting the integrity of all of our offices — both Council and Mayor — is critical,” she said.

She added she “can not support a six-month window.”

Councillor Hundial defended the importance of the ethics commissioner having access to city files, among other points. He suggested a 90-day window for suspending complaint intakes in the future.

“For me, it’s a little conflicting. I do think there’s some progress in this proposed amendment, but certainly, it’s not everything I’d like to see, unfortunately, without the ability to have division among several points,” he said.

“Unfortunately, I will not be supporting it.”

Councillor Doug Elford did support the recommendations, saying other places around Canada have suspended complaint intakes for similar periods of time.

“We’re not doing anything new here,” he said.

Criticism of lacking transparency is common place in Surrey.

The Surrey Police Vote campaign filed a complaint against Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum in early September, alleging possible intimidation and interference with volunteers gathering signatures for a petition calling for a democratic referendum on policing in Surrey.

This is due to the fact that he was charged with public mischief last year after claiming his foot was run over in a parking lot.

Mayor Doug McCallum and Surrey isn’t the only secretive body in British Columbia. Within the last 2

BC Police want to add fees or limits to Freedom of Information Act requests to apparently help reduce the amount of requests they receive.

BC NDP inquired about restricting Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Act requests to “Qualified Canadian Journalist Organization” (QCJO) that was created by the federal government and hand picks who they think is a so-called “qualified journalist” pulling access to information away from citizens and independent journalists. This was shot down by the Information and Privacy commissioner of BC

“Sometimes it results in answers that may be of — well, I’ll say it straight out — embarrassment to the government or public body. That’s the nature of the system. That’s why it’s there: to cast transparency on what has transpired and allow the public to make a judgement about those things” said Michael McEvoy

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