Surrey has won a dishonourable mention in the 2021 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the municipal category.
The 'accolade' is one of several presented annually by the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, News Media Canada, and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
The intent of the awards is to call public attention to government or publicly funded agencies "that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right to under access to information legislation."
The Feb. 15 announcement specifically mentions Mayor Doug McCallum, and councillors Doug Elford, Laurie Guerra, Allison Patton and Mandeep Nagra.
The announcement said materials submitted to the jury said McCallum banned seven citizens last September from physically attending city council meetings or participating remotely. The group was opposed to the city's transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force.
The mayor claimed they repeatedly contravened a procedural bylaw that requires speakers to keep comments “relevant.”
McCallum named the seven individuals in a motion during a land-use committee meeting at the time.
The motion read:
“Whereas the following individuals have attended council meetings and have repeatedly disrupted the orderly conduct of council meetings and harassed council members and city staff: Annie Kaps, Debbie Johnstone, Colin Pronger, Ivan Scott and Merle Scott, Marilyn Smith, Linda Yependberg. And whereas these named individuals and their disorderly conduct have repeatedly contravened section 52.1 of the council procedure bylaw, which requires comments to be relevant to the bylaw under consideration at a public hearing and whereas the city has a responsibility under its respectful workplace policy and other policies and laws to ensure an environment free of harassment for its staff and other participants. Be it resolved [the seven individuals] be immediately prohibited from attending Surrey council and committee meetings until council determines otherwise.”
The motion was passed by McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition but was immediately criticized by dissenting councillors.
Coun. Steven Pettigrew asked if the city had formed a legal opinion but McCallum declined to have staff answer the question.
Pettigrew said he believed the ban to be unconstitutional.
Coun. Linda Annis said, “I don’t think we should be banning anyone from city hall without them doing something illegal. Are we going to start banning all those who don’t agree with us?”
The city council agreed, in late December, to rescind the bylaw it created to prevent the citizens from participating. It stopped short, however, of apologizing to the individuals or reimbursing them for their legal fees.
A Glacier Media request to the city for comment was passed to McCallum. He declined to comment.
Other Code of Silence Awards
Earlier this month, the journalism groups awarded B.C.’s NDP government its annual Code of Silence Award for its changes to the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
Premier John Horgan, Minister of Citizens’ Services Lisa Beare and the provincial government were selected as the 2021 recipients for the award in the Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the provincial category.
The B.C. government received the accolade as a result of passing FIPPA amendments into law in Bill 22 last year.
Stratford, Ont. City Council was selected as the 2021 recipient of the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the municipal category.
The awards announcement said for more than two years, that council circumvented basic transparency measures as it held secret in-camera meetings and failed to properly report discussions and planning undertaken with Xinyi Canada Glass, the Canadian subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Xinyi Glass Holdings, to build a $400-million glass factory in the community.