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Surrey residents making Indigenous land acknowledgments after council rejects motion

Ethical considerations dominate Surrey council meeting Feb. 8
A council meeting Feb. 8 got a bit heated after Coun. Allison Patton, top-centre, called into question her colleagues’ “reading abilities.”

Surrey residents are now making Indigenous land acknowledgments at city council meetings, after a majority of councillors rejected a formal one for themselves.

On Monday, five residents called into the online meeting and acknowledged the local First Nation bands of the Katzie, Semiahmoo and Kwantlen people.

Some of the residents are regular council attendees who had never made such acknowledgments before and so they appear directed toward council members who rejected a Jan. 11 proposal by Coun. Jack Hundial to impose one before each meeting.

Hundial suggested developing “a meaningful, respectful acknowledgment before every Council and Committee meeting … in recognition that we are settlers here on this Coast Salish Land.” 

However, Safe Surrey Coalition (SSC) council members, including Mayor Doug McCallum, rejected the motion in a 5-4 vote. Coun. Laurie Guerra cautioned against legislating speech, or imposing it upon the chair.

Although McCallum reassured residents the city has Indigenous issues as a top priority, First Nations organizations expressed disappointment after the proposal’s rejection.

The relatively short council agenda on Monday saw residents chime in on three developments, expressing a now consistent concern that variances, such as smaller setbacks from public land, are being routinely approved at the behest of developers.

The meeting was also marked by what is now a common occurrence — residents being cut off, over the phone, by the mayor for not remaining on the topic of the agenda.

“To begin I would like to acknowledge I reside on the shared, unceded traditional territory of the Katzie, Semiahmoo, Kwantlen and other Coast Salish people,” said Debbie Johnstone.

However, Johnstone wasn’t there to speak on an agenda item. As an activist for the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign, she went on to state, “So given that Mr. Rolls has resigned from the board, I respectfully ask you cancel the transition.”

Johnstone referred to the announced resignation of city-appointed Surrey Police Board member Bob Rolls, who says he is moving to Vancouver Island.

The council was marked by further controversy when non-SSC members complained they had no reasonable chance to review a corporate report from the Investment and Innovation committee, which is solely comprised of SSC councillors.

Hundial said he had received the report around 4:30 p.m. (as part of an addendum) that day, and just ahead of a land-use meeting at 5:30 p.m.

Coun. Linda Annis told McCallum she had missed the email and she had a fiduciary responsibility to read it before accepting it.

Coun. Allison Patton replied to the complaints, stating the report wasn’t very long and he had an hour to read it.

“Anyone with a decent reading ability would be able to read that report, in my opinion. So fiduciarily (sic), I think we needed to read that report,” said Patton.

Hundial’s Surrey Connect partner Coun. Brenda Locke called Patton’s comments “inappropriate and disrespectful,” adding this is not the first time she’s had such an opinion of Patton.

It was Jan. 11 when Patton questioned Hundial’s “authenticity” for proposing the land acknowledgment.

Surrey has a newly appointed ethics commissioner. At the meeting, the SSC accepted a cap on legal fees ($400/hour) for a council member’s defense against allegations of a code of conduct violation.

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