More is at stake here than the political drama of a council majority simply striking out at seven Surrey residents by asking a judge to prohibit them from attending council meetings.
Former Surrey mayor Bose Bose says it’s a test case which, if the City of Surrey’s petition to the court is successful, will have serious ramifications for democracy at the civic level in Canada.
“It’s an outrageous overkill,” Bose told the Now-Leader. “What have these seven senior citizens done? They’ve done absolutely nothing; they’re being accused of all kinds of things.”
“This thing is totally out of hand,” he said. “I understand for the seven to respond, they would incur tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs. Nobody’s going to do it pro bono.”
“In my opinion this is a test case that deals with the powers of council to prohibit participation. It’s draconian,” Bose said. “The respondents need to have legal representation. It’s far more than a case where I’m putting on a square-foot addition to my house without permits and in violation of a zoning bylaw. For this matter to be fairly adjudicated, the respondents need to respond, and they need to have adequate legal counsel to respond properly. It’s a serious matter and it needs to be seriously adjudicated.”
A petition to the court was filed by Lidstone & Company on behalf of the City of Surrey on Oct. 18, at the B.C. Supreme Court registry in Vancouver, asking the court to prohibit seven Surrey residents “from physically attending City of Surrey Council and Committee meetings in person, until Council determines otherwise…”
The respondents named in the petition are Annie Kaps, Debbie (Debi) Johnstone, Colin Pronger, Ivan Scott, Merle (Meryl) Scott, Marilyn Smith and Linda Ypenburg. They have 21 days to respond.
“The respondents are regularly opposed to the policy decisions of the City’s Mayor and Council and have regularly made this opposition known through written correspondence and submissions to Council and City staff, as well as attending and appearing at Council meetings,” the petition states, and alleges that “on numerous occasions, the political opposition of the respondents has exceeded the bounds of respectful opposition.”
Bose argues the City of Surrey has an obligation to indemnify the seven respondents for their legal costs “if they’re serious about expanding the scope of denying citizens participation. This is no ordinary case.”
The Safe Surrey Coalition majority on city council passed a motion during a land use meeting on Sept. 19 designed to “protect the democratic process” by banning some speakers from attending public hearings in council chambers and to ensure “a safe and respectful environment” for council and staff.
Coun. Brenda Locke, who is seeking election for Surrey mayor in next year’s election as the Surrey Connect candidate, says she and other councillors were “blindsided” by that motion because it also authorized staff to take further steps including seeking court orders.
“I didn’t really realize that because we didn’t have a copy in front of us,” she said. “As I said, we were all blindsided.”
Locke said despite researching the issue she has “never found a council anywhere in Canada that has done this, so I would assume that there will be a lot of eyes watching to see how this moves forward.”
Coun. Jack Hundial, also of Surrey Connect, called the city’s petition to the court “frankly uncalled for. There’s no reason to do this and it’s just another huge black eye for the city, the city doesn’t need it. I think a huge overreach by government. Really, people’s rights a freedoms.”
Mayor Doug McCallum could not be reached for comment. Coun. Doug Elford, of the Safe Surrey Coalition, said Friday said he’s “not quite sure” what precipitated the court petition beyond the original council resolution. “I have put a call into legal right now, waiting for a call back,” he said. “I don’t have answer for you right now. I’ve got my feelers out on this to find out what precipitated the reasoning for it, and that’s where we’re at.”
Ivan Scott, one of the seven respondents, said Friday he hadn’t been served yet. Fighting the petition will no doubt be costly, he said.
“This is just another typical way that he’s trying to intimidate us, bully us and try and shut us down and restrict any type of resistance to anything he does,” Scott said of the mayor, “and especially the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign.”
Scott hopes a lawyer might take on their case pro bono considering it’s “absolutely in the public interest.”
“We’re just a group of volunteers here,” he said. “They should indemnify us if they’re going to fight their own citizens. In a case like this, they should in actual fact guarantee our legal costs, or stand for them anyway. That should be in the interests of the public. To just nail meal is not really in the interest of the public.”
“If there was somebody who is interested in us and looking at this as a pro bono, we’d happily talk to him,” Scott said.