'This is a zoo': Surrey budget approved in crowded, hostile council meeting
SURREY, B.C. -- Surrey city council passed its controversial five-year financial plan Monday night after a heated public hearing.
Mayor Doug McCallum and the four councillors remaining in his Safe Surrey Coalition voted in favour of the plan, despite public outcry.
The first draft of the budget was passed two weeks ago.
It earmarked nearly $130 million for the Surrey Police Force transition, but did not allocate funds for additional police officers, firefighters or community resources.
Two dueling rallies about the budget were held outside city hall ahead of the final vote, and both sides had strong opinions about the future of the city’s policing model.
The first was hosted by Wake Up Surrey, an advocacy group aimed at preventing gang violence.
"This is a solidarity rally for the Surrey council who is moving ahead with the Surrey police," said Gurdeep Singh Sahota, a founding member of the group.
Dozens of supporters gathered for the event, holding signs and chanting "Surrey police."
"We have a population of more than 525,000 now and experts say the RCMP model can't handle a city having a population having more than 300,000," Sahota told CTV News.
McCallum and councillors from his party also attended the rally.
"We together are gonna get it, we promise you that," said McCallum to the cheering crowd.
Wake Up Surrey says it's not concerned about a lack new first responders.
"If there will be any shortage we'll ask from the federal government as well as the provincial government," said Sahota.
The second rally was hosted by Speak Up Surrey and was organized by former firefighter and city councillor Mike Starchuk.
"This is not just about police, this is not just about firefighters," said Starchuk at the rally.
The creator of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign also spoke, along with Darlene Bennett, whose husband was shot and killed in a case of mistaken identity in 2018.
Hundreds of supporters from both rallies filed into council chambers afterward to see if their last ditch efforts had any sway.
The room was packed, with dozens of people forced to watch from the lobby.
The mood in the room quickly became hostile, as "Keep the RCMP" and "Surrey police" chants erupted from the crowd.
People were also overheard personally attacking each others character based on their political views.
Some went as far as making racist remarks.
Laurie Guerra was the only councillor who was able to weigh in on the budget before the crowd became too unruly.
After less than half hour of failed attempts to quiet the crowd, McCallum and his coalition walked out of the room to a chorus of boos and cheers.
They returned roughly 10 minutes later, but left again when the crowd became hostile.
After an awkward and confusing recess the mayor came back and began reading through the bylaws.
The chanting and interruptions were so loud, most in the room did not know what was going on.
"All in favour or against," said McCallum who was visibly rattled by the crowd.
Coun. Steven Pettigrew stood up and asked why no further discussion from the rest of council was being allowed.
"There will be no speakers! Because of safety conditions," shouted McCallum.
Pettigrew turned his back to the mayor as the decision was read aloud.
The 5-4 decision once again split the council by party lines, with McCallum and Couns. Doug Elford, Laurie Guerra, Mandeep Nagra and Allison Patton voting in favour.
Several people from the crowd could be heard chanting "referendum."
"We've put all of our eggs in one basket and I don't think everybody agrees with that. We don't have to get one thing at the cost of something else," said Starchuk.
He says he's disappointed in the decision and the lack of opportunity to speak that councillors were given.
"This is wrong, this has no place in our democracy inside of these chambers. These chambers are supposed to be respectful. It's supposed to be civil," added Starchuk.
"This is a zoo, this is a circus," he said.
McCallum said he stands by his decision to leave the council meeting.
“If you were in the situation it was a very dangerous and serious situation. The crowd would not be quiet, no one could be heard over it," said the Surrey mayor.
"I felt uncomfortable, put it that way. The crowd was pretty raucous," he told CTV News after the meeting had concluded.
The four councillors opposed to the budget say they did not feel their safety was at risk and said they were disappointed in the mayor's decision to leave the room.
Surrey's total budget for 2020 will be $1.3 billion.