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Witness tells B.C. mayor's mischief trial she called him evil, said he had scaly face

SURREY, B.C. — The first witness at the public mischief trial of Surrey, B.C., Mayor Doug McCallum says she swore at him and told him he had a scaly face during a "heated debate" outside a grocery store.
Doug McCallum, waits at a meeting in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, September 26, 2022. The outgoing mayor of Surrey, B.C., is set to face a charge of public mischief at the start of a trial today, two weeks after his defeat at the polls.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

SURREY, B.C. — The first witness at the public mischief trial of Surrey, B.C., Mayor Doug McCallum says she swore at him and told him he had a scaly face during a "heated debate" outside a grocery store.

Debi Johnstone told provincial court Monday that she recognized McCallum while her vehicle was stopped at a crosswalk on the morning of Sept. 4, 2021, just before she joined others collecting signatures for a petition aimed at seeking a referendum to keep the RCMP in Surrey.

She is part of a group opposed to McCallum's plan to replace the RCMP with a municipal police force, a promise that deeply divided Surrey between those who sought to maintain the Mounties and those who wanted them out.

Johnstone, 66, said she yelled "Resign, McCallum" from her Ford Mustang as he was walking toward the store. She also told him she would be the one to bring him down.

McCallum, who lost his bid for re-election two weeks ago, pleaded not guilty Monday to the public mischief charge filed against him last December. He is accused of misleading police in a complaint that followed the encounter with Johnstone.

"It just became unpleasantries between the two of us, going back and forth," she said.

Johnstone said McCallum, 78, stood about a metre away from the passenger side of her car as she continued to speak to him.

"I told him he was the worst mayor that Surrey ever had," she told Crown attorney Richard Fowler. 

"I told him he's a liar. I told him he wasn't going to get back in. His face is kind of peely and scaly so I made a reference to him having a scaly face."

McCallum told her she was a big mouth, needed to learn to be quiet and that she and members of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group weren't allowed to be there due to multiple lawsuits against them, Johnstone said, adding she is not named in any lawsuits.

"As I drove away I told him, 'You're evil.'"

The court heard McCallum complained to the RCMP that day, saying Johnstone had nearly pinned him at the back of his car and then ran over his foot before driving off in a dangerous way.

As well as calling 911, McCallum provided a statement at the RCMP detachment and went to the emergency room of the local hospital, Fowler told the court.

“The question, ultimately, will be whether Mr. McCallum intended to mislead the police by making false statements to the police with the intention to cause Ms. Johnstone to be suspected of having committed an offence she had not committed,” he said.

Surveillance video played in court shows Johnstone's car stopped at a solid yellow line near the entrance to the store, and McCallum standing close to the vehicle.

Johnstone said that after parking her car, she saw McCallum talking to Ivan Scott, founder of Keep the RCMP in Surrey, near a tent that volunteers had set up.

She said Scott asked her if she had run over the mayor's foot.

"I laughed and said, 'Of course not,'" she told court.

That afternoon, Johnstone said she received a call from an RCMP officer about "an incident" and later provided a statement to him at the detachment.

"He told me that I would be investigated for assault with a weapon and criminal harassment," she said.

Richard Peck, McCallum's lawyer, suggested Johnstone used expletives to try and intimidate his client and to demean his "disability." 

He said she has used similar tactics elsewhere, including at a protest against the Surrey Police Service by referring to new officers as scabs.

Johnstone replied that while she used language "unfitting of a lady" in the incident involving the mayor, it's not illegal to do that, especially because she was trying to be heard after some citizens had been barred from speaking at council meetings.

"I wanted him to know that I wasn't going to go into the corner and shut up like he wanted me to," she said.

Peck suggested she was "very disruptive" in council chambers and had been barred temporarily.

Johnstone earlier told the court that she voted for McCallum in 2018 because of his promise to extend the SkyTrain and his concerns around public safety.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press