Surrey council puts public outside chamber after previous meeting chaos

Surrey’s council meeting operated a little differently Wednesday evening. As Kier Junos reports, black curtains were pulled over the council chamber windows, and the audience had to sit in the atrium.

After outbursts prompted Monday’s Surrey city council meeting to be cut short to just seven minutes, things operated a little differently Wednesday night.

While Mayor Doug McCallum and city councillors remained in their usual seats in chambers, members of the public were not allowed inside unless they were on the agenda to speak.

One attendee, Sebastian Sajda, who is running for a seat on council with Surrey Connect in the upcoming October election, was among those to show up.

“So we’re stuck out here in the atrium. We can’t even see into council chambers — council chambers is actually blocked out by block curtains,” he told CityNews of the set up outside of the meeting Wednesday. “Folks are going in one at a time to speak to items and it’s really quite slow.”

“They’ve set up sort of a P.A. system, which really isn’t overcoming the noise that’s being generated by the crowd here,” he added of how things were organized in the atrium.

There were many supporters of the city’s new municipal police force in the crowd, some wearing white t-shirts which read “Welcome Surrey Police Service.”

Some of these people were among those on the list to speak to agenda items, with the group saying members wanted to make sure their message was heard as well.

“You can see that the Keep the RCMP in Surrey crowd just isn’t here and they didn’t turn up for the second night. I think they sort of made the point they wanted to make on Monday and here’s where we are now,” Sajda, explained, referring to the meeting on Monday.

When asked about the atypical treatment of the council meeting Wednesday, Surrey Police Service supporter Inder Sangha agreed the measures were necessary.

“I definitely do think so, because a meeting’s a meeting, right? If there’s disruption and you’re not allowing the meeting to happen, then it just doesn’t allow the meeting to complete,” he told CityNews.

On Wednesday, McCallum delivered his State of the City Address. Given the controversies that have plagued his most recent time as mayor, including charges of public mischief he is set to face in court later this year, McCallum was asked whether he should step down from his role.

He was clear in his response, saying “I will not” confidently when posed the question.

“I’ve certainly understood that but I think a lot of it is political. We’re in election time right now and I will not step down,” McCallum added.

Later in the day, his supporters argued it would be premature if he resigned.

“He’s not convicted, right? Charges don’t mean someone’s convicted or have done that. So, I think it’s sort of speculation,” said Sangha.

Meanwhile, council is now considering a motion to move its meetings online — as they were during the pandemic. However, the proposal isn’t being welcomed by all.

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Coun. Linda Annis says virtual council meetings would leave the public out of the conversation.

“My fear would be that we would reverse that way and you know, it limits the access to the public to actually to be to participate and come council … in the way that they can when we are in-person,” Annis told CityNews.

Mayor McCallum argues the move wouldn’t be permanent, adding if it was brought in, it could be use in a case-by-case basis, as required.

“I think it is at least a good option to have for council. I think this council can at least have then option and then it will be up to council to decide which way they want to go,” he said Wednesday night.

If supported, council would still likely give notice before switching a meeting to an online format, usually two weeks in advance.

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