Blue Line

Surrey councillor with kids in RCMP broke conflict rules in police vote: ethics probe

June 21, 2023  By The Canadian Press

June 21, 2023, Surrey, B.C. – An ethics report has found that a Surrey, B.C., councillor with two children working for the RCMP breached ethics rules when he voted to halt the transition to an independent police force.

Surrey’s ethics commissioner found Coun. Rob Stutt broke the council’s code of conduct on Nov. 14 when he voted at a meeting to decide the fate of the transition.

The city’s code states that councillors “must disclose any conflict of interest and, if conflicted, must refrain from participating in a meeting.”

The move to the Surrey Police Service was rejected in a 5-4 vote.

In a second vote last Thursday, councillors voted 6-3 in favour of sticking with the RCMP, Mayor Brenda Locke said in a news release issued by the city on Wednesday in response to the ethics report.

The report “makes no specific recommendations or further measures that Surrey Council should take in relation to the complaint,” the release states.

The commissioner’s report said that one of Stutt’s children was a Surrey RCMP officer at the time of the November vote, and another was a civilian employee.

While the officer was seeking an RCMP transfer at the time of the vote, ethics commissioner Peter Johnson found that was not enough to overcome the perception of potential bias and thus Stutt had contravened the code of conduct.

It said the transition would have resulted in the elimination of a “substantial” number of policing positions in the Surrey RCMP detachment, and Stutt therefore had a “personal interest” in the vote’s outcome.

The commissioner, though, found Stutt had “acted in good faith, and had participated in the meeting with the intention of fulfilling a promise he made to voters during the 2022 City Council election.”

A summary of Johnson’s report said that because Stutt affirmed the officer no longer worked in the Surrey detachment, the conflict “would appear to have been eliminated.”

But it said that “moving forward Coun. Stutt will need to be mindful of the potential for a conflict of interest in respect of council decisions that could affect the employment of” members of his family.

In Wednesday’s statement, Locke said she was “disappointed that misinformation continues to be spread in a partisan campaign to discredit certain members of council and the Surrey RCMP.”

The commissioner’s report said the investigation did not uphold a conflict complaint in relation to the civilian RCMP employee because they would have been offered a job with the Surrey Police Service on the same terms if the transition had gone ahead.

Rick Stewart, president of the Surrey Police Union that lodged the ethics complaint in February, said in a news release on Wednesday that Stutt should apologize to city residents for “his disrespect to his office and compromised integrity at city hall.”

Stutt said in a statement Wednesday that he fully supports the ethics commissioner, but he never tried to hide that his son had followed his footsteps into policing.

“I am extremely proud of the career paths that both of my children, aged 37 and 35, have chosen but let me be clear when I say, it is their career path, and has no relevance on my moral compass. I remain committed to the public safety of the citizens of Surrey.”

He said public safety was the sole reason for his vote last year and again this month.

Stutt noted that the commissioner also found that he acted in good faith with a view of fulfilling the promise he made to voters during the last election about reverting to the RCMP.

Locke and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth have been in a fractious debate over the fate of policing in the city, with Locke accusing Farnworth of bullying and misogyny after Farnworth said the city had been playing “games.”

The B.C. government recommended in April that the city continue with its transition to the independent Surrey Police Service and offered $150 million in funding to help.

Locke said after the second council vote that it would be far less costly to stick with the RCMP than continuing with the transition to the independent force. But Farnworth must sign off on the decision.

Union spokesman Ryan Buhrig said in an interview that the commissioner’s findings aren’t necessarily a victory for the union and its members.

Buhrig said the policing transition process in the city has been “mired in politics,” tainting what could be an important step for public safety by casting a “dark cloud” over a policy issue that has taken a personal and professional toll on the union’s members.

“I know many of our members, myself included, have had our families attacked online by various supporters of the RCMP and Mayor Locke and it’s unfortunate that people can’t focus on the policy issues and focus on what’s the best policing model for the city and have that healthy, constructive dialogue,” he said. “It’s really shameful that it’s become so personal.”

Buhrig said the new police service had officers from all over the country join because of the challenges in Surrey, such as gang activity, and to work with the city’s youth in schools.

“People really came over here because they could put their mark on something new and for this whole cloud to be over it, it’s just been so unfortunate and I don’t think it serves public safety well in the city either,” Buhrig said.

Moving forward, Buhrig said the union’s members are waiting on Farnworth’s decision, which he expects to be handed down in the coming weeks.

During November’s council meeting, Coun. Doug Elford had warned that keeping the RCMP would again make Surrey an “under-policed city” where people were afraid to walk the streets at night.

Stutt said Elford didn’t provide any proof that changing to a municipal force would improve the city’s public safety issues.

“There’s no basis on fact that the Surrey Police Service would be any improvement, any better, or change the crime rate.”

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