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Are Surrey Taxpayers Being Muzzled?

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City of Surrey Staff have been spotted taking down the “Keep the RCMP signs” from the front of people’s property. There are many schools of thought on this. Technically, as many properties have City of Surrey easement and Right of Ways registered on title, the staff are within their rights to removed anything on that right-of-way.

They have also been accused of removing the signs from people’s personal property. Again technically, the signs could be interpreted as a violation of the city’s sign bylaw. So technically the city may be within its rights to remove the signs but morally, are they doing themselves and the taxpayers a service by attempting to quash what is an obviously growing movement.

It is becoming more and more apparent that a growing number of taxpayers in the City of Surrey are against the Mayor’s plan to transition from the RCMP to a city police force. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Some believe that the RCMP are the better choice in policing, ignoring or overlooking the problems which seem to be systemic in the way some RCMP transactions have gone down.

Most agree that there needs to be better local accountability and there is a growing movement toward funding the police in a different way and using some funds to give police better support in dealing with addiction, poverty related crime, homelessness and mental illness.

Some believe that city police are going to be better. When asked why, the only answer that I have gotten is “better accountability” but when pressed for a clearer understanding of how that accountability will work, I am told “police board” which in theory could work but under the RCMP, we also have the ability to have a police board so I find myself back where I started.

What is not disputed is the fact that this will cost taxpayers a significant amount of money.

What is also not disputed is that with COVID 19, many taxpayers in the city are struggling to survive and any future financial plan from the city needs to take that into account. Many in the city think that the transition is possible but that it should include taxpayer input, be done over a longer period of time allowing for an easier financial transition and there should be more transparency on the project.

The issue is trust.

We have lost trust in our some of our elected officials because we feel our voices are not being heard or considered. Some would say we have lost faith in some of our police forces, both city and RCMP because of things we see on social media. And yes, many posts about how good the police are, and heart-warming stories also exist out there, but the majority of people are watching the world, the protests and the issues and extrapolating them into life here in Surrey.

However it must be pointed out that the RCMP have received 80% plus support in the polls. The petition to keep the RCMP is over 45,000 names and counting which is more than the number of votes that put the Mayor in power.

It is true that this was their platform but it could be argued that it was a symbolic vote without all the necessary information. I think most agree that the process has been flawed – there has never been a corporate report nor has there been a feasibility study, even though Wally Oppal recommended one. Those studies are important in determining the best steps for moving forward.

So, we have many issues and a lot of shouting voices, but the question is this…

Are taxpayers being muzzled? Some have said that taxpayers are trying to “redo the election” and that it is refreshing to see politicians “keeping their word” when it comes to campaign promises. Others are saying that decisions made regarding taxpayers’ dollars should include the voices of all the taxpayers and not just those who voted for your party.

They are demanding a “fair system” where their voices aren’t targeted and shut down at council meetings. They want the Mayor and his four councillors to play by Robert’s Rules of Order and not run roughshod over legitimate motions put out by those elected councillors not on his personal cheering team.

Taxpayers want a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

And so, the “Keep the RCMP” movement grows, and more and more signs are going up. Some have erected signs simply to demonstrate their right to free expression and without a real heart in the fight. They believe that if taxpayers voices are being ignored then they should join the fight for the right to put up a sign and demonstrate in a real way that they will not be silenced. Others firmly believe that the RCMP belong in Surrey and they will continue to put up signs, regardless of how many are taken down.

Some hang the signs from their chimney and dare city employees to step on their property. One woman has her sign right on the easement line and a pressurized water hose at the ready, for anyone that dares to touch it. She claims it is to water her roses with, but the water pressure will take the paint of sidewalk, so I am not so sure.

The question is one of fairness. City workers have been caught on camera removing only the “Keep the RCMP” signs but ignoring all the other signs in the neighbourhood that also contravene the sign bylaw, so it is obvious that this is the only group being targeted.

Again, this is an issue of fairness. The fact is that many signs contravene the city bylaws and for the most part they are ignored. Even one city of Surrey councillor has signs which appear to contravene the city bylaw, on city easement and city property advertising his business. This is walking distance from where taxpayer’s Keep the RCMP signs were removed. Why aren’t his signs taken down?

Regardless of where you stand on the argument, people want equitable treatment with regards to signs. And taxpayers will find a way to be heard. Especially as they are getting their property tax bills in the mail and currently seeing an increase in property taxes with a noticeable decrease in services.

With swimming pools and civic centres all closed, funding for the arts dried up, and parks closed, even non-political people are questioning the need to spend so much money on a police transition when there are so many other needs in the city. I believe that taxpayers have a right to put up their signs and express their opinion. They should have been able to be heard by their elected officials, but they were shut down.

They should have gotten responses to their letters to their elected municipal officials but only a few responded. They should have been heard by the provincial officials but their silence on this issue has been deafening. While some have responded and some have made public statements, most have tiptoed whistling, away from the issue.

Taxpayers have legitimate questions about cost and the direct effect it will have on their family finances and those questions deserve an answer. Taxpayers want to be part of a process that will affect how crime in their neighbourhood is handled and what kind of model policing will take.

They want to know where the new police will come from and who will train them. They want the ability to speak into the process and participate in discussions about how things are done. They want the transition, if done, to be done in a way that doesn’t put the public at risk.

Taxpayers want their voices to be heard. On both sides of this fence, taxpayers need to be part of the process and not have one decision shoved down their throats while the other side laughs. Nor should the voices of those who want city police be shouted down by those against. Proper, respectful, informed discussion needs to take place with both sides listening with listening ears to what the other has to say.

Until this happens, we will continue to see chaos and dysfunction at the council level. We will continue to have taxpayers flooding the mailrooms of elected officials, municipally, federally and provincially and we will continue to see signs going up all over Surrey that say, “Keep the RCMP”.

It would be wise for the Mayor to allow taxpayers their signs. This isn’t going to go away. Their voices are becoming louder and stronger and it would be wise for every elected official, on all levels to figure out which side of the fence they are on and quickly because the time for accountability has come.

Let your voice be heard. Write a short, informed, respectful letter to your elected officials and give them your reasons for what you think. This is your money and your city. It doesn’t belong to outsiders, special interest groups or politicians. It belongs to you.

Shara Nixon loves to hear and repeat the stories of people’s lives and cultural viewpoints. She enjoys deep conversations and people who hold strong viewpoints. In her day job she is a social worker for business owners, helping them meet their goals. As an insomniac, she writes at night to clear her head. She is punctuationally challenged and uses too many !!!. She also believes in creative spelling as an art form. Her super-power is in connecting like-minded people and communicating with an intent to learn instead of respond. She writes about relationships, business savvy, online dating, finance and general things that piss her off. Shara believes that key to peace is education and connection!!!

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Surrey Police Board Appointed

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Mayor Doug McCallum’s remarks on the appointment
of the inaugural Board of Surrey Police:

Today is truly a historic moment in the City of Surrey. It gives me great pride to announce that the Surrey Police Board has been officially appointed. The seven provincial appointees were given approval by the minister and cabinet with official confirmation made by the Lieutenant Governor. The seven provincial appointed board members will join Bob Rolls, previously appointed by Surrey City Council, and myself on the Surrey Police Board.

Today’s milestone is an important one. With the Surrey Police Board now in place, we can start in earnest the critical work ahead that will set the foundation for a new, innovative, modern and proactive police service that is tailor made for Surrey.

I want to extend my sincere thanks to Premier Horgan for his support for this project. To Minister Farnworth, I want to thank you for the priority and attention you have given to Surrey Police every step of the way. The speed in which you and your team have worked to build this amazing Board must be duly recognized and commended.

To the men and women of Surrey RCMP, I want to acknowledge your service and dedication to our city. I want to sincerely thank all the RCMP members who serve in our city and who have helped to build what was once a farming community into the metropolitan area that Surrey is today.

The move to a city police service of this size is unprecedented and the substantial and complex work involved to make such a switch possible is no small undertaking. I want to thank all the city staff and the members of our policing transition team for their hard work and long hours. How far we have come in such a short time is proof of the quality of work you have done on this important file.

Where we are today began with a unanimous vote by Council on our inaugural night. To the Councillors who have stood by their vote and remained resolute in the move to a city police service, I commend and thank you for keeping your promise to the people of Surrey.

To the members of the Surrey Police Board, my congratulations to you. I understand there was no shortage of qualified applicants to serve on the Board, and its proof of your expertise, experience, and character that you have been selected to be part of the inaugural Surrey Police Board.

It goes without saying that I have been raring to get to work and that has been ramped up a notch knowing now that I will be working with such a distinguished, talented and diverse group. In the coming weeks, the City will provide support to prepare the Board for the crucial work to come.

Together, we will work to ensure that Surrey Police is accountable, transparent and serves the diverse needs of our citizens, our neighbourhoods, and our city. I know the Board will be as excited as I am to work with our community to confirm that our policing priorities, policies and programs are made in Surrey, for Surrey. We are at an important crossroads on policing all across North America.

Those of us in leadership positions need to ensure we build policing models and systems that respect the diversity and experiences of our residents. In Surrey we take that very seriously and we are fortunate that we are in a position to build an innovative, community responsive policing model for our City. The bar we will set for our new police service will be high because our goal is to have Surrey Police be the Centre of Excellence for policing not just in BC but across the country.

The move to Surrey Police was what my team and I campaigned on. We promised that we would deliver if we were given the opportunity and we started making good on that promise from day one. We stand by our pledge and I want to thank the people of Surrey for their support.

Whenever there are significant changes, there is bound to be some opposition. I understand that. For those who have been opposed, I hope you take the time to reflect why this move to a city police service is necessary, and quite frankly, long overdue.

The unique opportunity before us, of building a police service from the ground up, is a chance for all of us to come together and be part of something that will have a lasting and positive legacy for this great City of ours. On behalf of the Surrey Police Board, I can assure the people of Surrey we are ready to take on this challenge and we are very eager to get started.

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Mayor Abusing In Camera Meetings To Avoid Transparency And Public

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Councillor Linda Annis
Where is the independent ethics commissioner we agreed to in June 2019?

Surrey, B.C.: Councillor Linda Annis says Mayor Doug McCallum is abusing the in-camera process that allows the council to make decisions without transparency or public discussion.

“It’s becoming clear to all of us on the council that whenever the mayor wants to pass something controversial without discussion, transparency or public input, he slides it into an in-camera session of the council,” said Annis. “He knows that once we are in-camera our hands are tied and we can’t say anything publicly. Frankly, he’s taking advantage of the system and abusing the in-camera sessions of the council. The fact that I can’t even mention some of the things he’s brought to these behind-closed-doors sessions tells the real story and more often than not, he’s adding things to the meeting agenda at the very last minute without any notice. But, the minute the doors are closed, we can’t say a word publicly. It’s no way to run an open government and it’s certainly no way to treat Surrey residents. City business was never meant to be done in secret.”

Annis said it’s been a year since the council first approved an independent ethics commissioner. A hiring committee was struck several months ago but has yet to come forward with any results.

“In June of last year, we approved a motion to establish an independent ethics commissioner, making Surrey the first municipality in British Columbia to do so, and a code of conduct was approved by city councilors earlier this year,” said Annis. “It was a bold move we all supported on the council, but we haven’t heard a word from the selection committee which was stacked by the mayor with his Safe Surrey councilors. More and more, city hall and council are feeling like a fiefdom where the scales are tipped against our taxpayers who are kept in the dark when it comes to decision making and transparency. Frankly, if we ever get the ethics commissioner they’re going to be very busy.”

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Response to Mayor Doug McCallum: Diversity and Inclusion Statement of June 18, 2020

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Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum poses for a photograph at City Hall in Surrey, B.C. Photo: Darryl Dyck - The Globe and Mail.

Last week 4 headliners from the City of Surrey’s Canada Day celebrations pulled out based on the fact that the City of Surrey still hadn’t responded to its citizens pleas for the City to commit to dismantling anti-Black racism. Under mounting pressure they posted this statement: https://www.surrey.ca/city-government/31502.aspx

Once again, the City of Surrey is missing the mark. This is not enough. Below is the response on behalf of the petitioners, the African Heritage Festival of Music and Dance, & 5X Festival.

For two weeks now, we as a collective, have been asking the City of Surrey to show solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities and commit to anti-racism in our city. We’ve done this via social media, via petition, via headliners from the City of Surrey’s Canada Day Celebration, yet without adequate response.

We feel the city has been responding with the vocabulary of diversity and inclusion, rather than the vocabulary of anti-racism; and these are very different things. Let us preface by saying, we are not accusing anyone of being racist. We love Surrey, and we absolutely agree with Mayor McCallum that this city’s diversity is absolutely one of it’s fortifying pillars. The vibrancy of this city comes from that diversity.

However, all of our institutions are subject to systematic racism and acknowledging this fact is the very beginning of the journey of us moving through this together. Unfortunately, the City has yet to acknowledge this fundamental idea that there is systemic racism within the City of Surrey.

During June 15th’s Council Meeting, Mayor McCallum shared that in numerous speeches over the past 10 years he has said, “Surrey is unequivocally strengthened by our diversity. Our city is like a fabric and the threads that keep that fabric together are the different Cultures that we have and the diverse people that come together to work with one another.”

If we are to work with one another, please work with your citizens. If any one of your citizens feel that there is work to be done, then that is one to many. But it isn’t just one, it’s thousands. The Mayor went on to say that there is ‘no place for racism, discrimination or intolerance here or anywhere in the world.’ Well if there is no place for it, then it is time for us to accept and acknowledge the reality is that it does exist, here and everywhere in the world.

Where are the actions and policies that the City of Surrey is employing to specifically oppose racism? Not promote diversity, but dismantle racism. Let us be more specific in helping define the difference. According to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation:

Diversity is a term used to encompass the acceptance and respect of various dimensions including race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religious beliefs, age, physical abilities, political beliefs, or other ideologies.

Anti-Racism however is an active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual, institutional and systemic racism.

As the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre shares, “Some people may say they prefer the term “diversity.” … Popular/mainstream understandings of diversity often function to reinforce false notions that there is a level playing field in our society and  there are simply “differences” among those on the field that need to be respected.

Without diminishing the fundamental need for respect (as a human right), discourses of diversity often work in favour of maintaining racism and systemic racism because they fail to take into consideration, to analyze and truly critique and oppose imbalances of power among “diverse” individuals and groups.

The primary failure of the idea of  diversity is that it is premised on the false (and for the mainstream, comfortable) idea that equality already exists, as does equal access to the means of communication, participation in the economy, and so on.

The Province of British Columbia also separates Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism as the following:

Multiculturalism

As the most ethnically diverse province in Canada, British Columbia welcomes nearly 40,000 new immigrants every year. A rich multicultural society helps nurture inclusiveness, understanding and mutual respect. It is up to all of us to ensure that our multicultural society is supported today and for future generations.

One of B.C.’s greatest strengths is the diversity of the people who call this province home. Cultural diversity and increased participation and engagement by all cultures is vitally important to create a strong and vibrant social and economic future for British Columbia.

B.C.’s multicultural society is a key incentive to attract newcomers to our province and help address our regional skill shortages and grow our economy. With one million job openings expected by 2020 in B.C., immigrants will play a vital role in the economic well-being of the province.

Anti-Racism

B.C.’s multiculturalism policy states that violence, hatred and discrimination on the basis of racial identity have no place in our society. The province’s antiracism program empowers communities and organizations to maintain partnerships and develop projects to promote multiculturalism, address racism and build inclusive communities.

Anti-racism is the practice of identifying, challenging, preventing, eliminating and changing the values, structures, policies, programs, practices and behaviours that perpetuate racism.

Many people think racism is not a problem in multicultural Canada, but racism still exists in many places, including British Columbia. Racism can take many forms and is often implicit in our attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and values. It is up to all of us to take a collaborative community approach to challenge and prevent racism and hate crime.

So while the statement Mayor McCallum read to Council on Monday for Canadian Multiculturalism Day on June 27th, is a great place to celebrate the city’s diversity, your response to the calls for the City of Surrey to commit to dismantling racism is not the place for such commentary.

As the Mayor shared himself on Monday, 22% of BC’s Indigenous population lives in Surrey. Not mentioned was that Surrey is also home to the largest Black population in British Columbia. Do these communities not deserve their City’s commitment to antiracism?

Yes, naming Henry Houston Scott Park in honour of one of the first African American families to settle in the area is important work; however it does not tackle the institutionalized racism that the Black community encounters on a regular basis.

If the Mayor and City Councillors do indeed stand by the words of their statement and ‘are constantly looking at how we can strengthen the diverse and inclusive society we have in Surrey’, then committing to dismantling institutionalized anti-Black and antiIndigenous racism should be a natural step.

If they truly agree that ‘racism against Black Indigenous and POC has not been eradicated,’ then we urge you to proactively do something about it. If they wish to “assure {us} that {they} will continue to condemn and eliminate all acts of hate and discrimination in our city,” then please respond to our specific asks and tell us how.

Share with us the City of Surrey’s action plan for anti-racism. What tangible steps is the City of Surrey taking to actively dismantle racism?

Systemic racism, and specifically anti-Black racism, are real, and the lack of any action from the leaders of our city in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement is frankly, hurtful. Especially given that the population of the city of Surrey is 60% Black, Indigenous, and people of colour, that Surrey has the largest Black population in British Columbia, and that we are in the midst of the largest civil rights movement of our generation; the lack of any statement or commitment to anti-racism from the city of Surrey in response to this is deplorable.

We demand better leadership from those entrusted to lead our city and we once again ask that the City:

  1. Acknowledges that anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism exist in the City
  2. Acknowledges that civic institutions have tacitly perpetuated systematic racism
  3. Clarifies what percentage of the executive leadership of the City is diverse, and how that can change
  4. Commits to actively dismantling systemic racism, discrimination and intolerance from our systems
  5. Commits to drafting and putting into place a policy ensuring that Surrey is an inclusive and equitable place for Black and Indigenous and POC communities
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Dissolving SCDC Puts Surrey’s City Land at Risk

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Doug McCallum has a history of selling off our land rather than leveraging
it for the future: Councillor Linda Annis

Councillor Linda Annis said she is opposed to the mayor’s decision to dissolve the Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC) and worries about the future of city owned lands.

“SCDC has been an incredibly valuable arms-length agency of the city as we ensure we’re making the best possible use of city land and leveraging it for our community’s future,” said Annis. “Doug McCallum has a long history and habit of selling off city lands and it worries me that scrapping SCDC will put our land at risk.

Land is the most valuable asset we have as a community and we should be leveraging it to help build our city’s future, not just selling it off, which is what the mayor seems to like to do. SCDC has worked hard to ensure we get maximum value and opportunities out of our land, and I think taxpayers in Surrey should be worried about the future of our land.

Once our land is sold it’s gone for good, it’s a scarce resource and SCDC understood that. The SCDC model not only leveraged our lands, but it actually paid an annual dividend to the city. SCDC also had an arms-length mandate and board of professionals that ensured decisions were good for the future of our city and not just politically expedient.”

Annis said SCDC had three key objectives:

  • Act as a catalyst for positive development that supports and accelerates Surrey’s social, cultural, community, economic and environmental objectives
  • Generate revenue through real estate activity, including building an income producing real estate portfolio
  • Provide strategic real estate advice in support of the city’s vision for redeveloping areas of the city including the best use of surplus city-owned lands.

“When Dianne Watts created SCDC in 2007, she knew how important land was to the future of our city and wanted to make sure we were using it to meet the city’s long-term strategic objectives,” said Annis. “The fact is, SCDC works and now we’re putting city lands on Doug McCallum’s desk, recognizing that when it comes to city lands he has a reputation for selling off land rather than leveraging it for the future.”

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City of Surrey Named One of Canada’s Greenest Employers

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Surrey, BC – City of Surrey has been selected as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers in 2020, which recognizes employers that lead the nation in creating a culture of environmental awareness in their organizations.

“This award really speaks to the commitment the City of Surrey has made to the sustainability of our communities,” says Mayor Doug McCallum. “With innovative approaches like the Surrey Biofuel Facility and our new West Village Energy Centre, we are proud of the work in our fight against climate change and we will continue to look for more opportunities to lead the way in sustainability.”

This is the first time the City has been recognized for this award and is only one of four BC municipalities receiving the award for 2020. The City was evaluated and selected based on its unique environmental initiatives and programs; its success in reducing their environmental footprint; the degree to which employees are involved in its programs; and the extent to which these initiatives have become linked to the City’s identity.

Sustainability and energy efficiency are key priorities for the City of Surrey. Guided by its Sustainability Charter 2.0, an ambition 40-year vision for sustainability in Surrey, the City is committed to taking steps towards a thriving, green, inclusive city. Its environmental initiatives include the following:

  • Developing and expanding the Energy Smart Team, an employee-led program that focuses on advancing sustainability within the organization
  • Building sustainably designed facilities, like Surrey City Hall, the Grandview Heights Aquatics Centre and the Surrey Biofuel Facility
  • Hosting annual Pop-Up Junk events, collecting more than 3500 tonnes of waste each year and recycling approximately 65% of all the materials collected
  • Opening the West Village Energy Centre that will serve its City Centre population with reliable, cost-competitive, and cleaner heating and hot water services
  • Hosting many public programs and events, like the Love Where You Live campaign and Environmental Extravaganza that educate the community and encourage citizens to do their part in keeping Surrey green and beautiful

For more information on the City of Surrey’s sustainability efforts, visit www.surrey.ca/sustainability.

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