Surrey developer Bob Cheema has filed a defamation lawsuit against Surrey city councillor Jack Hundial.
This is the second such suit against a political opponent of Mayor Doug McCallum.
The claim originates from a motion tabled by Hundial at a Sep. 16 council meeting, in which Hundial asked for more information about an apparent meeting Cheema had on Nov. 2, 2018, with then mayor-elect McCallum and B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. Cheema was listed as attending the meeting on Farnworth’s calendar, but a spokesperson for Farnworth’s office subsequently denied Cheema attended; instead, the spokesperson said Cheema’s name was referenced in the calendar as he was the one who “reached out” to book the meeting that was described as one to discuss “traffic fine revenue sharing.”
The ministry spokesperson also said Donna Jones was listed on the calendar. Jones is Surrey¹s manager of economic development and intergovernmental relations.
Cheema claims Hundial made no effort to verify, prior to the motion, if he actually attended the meeting. Hundial’s motion asked for more information about the meeting and the extent of the relationship Cheema had to the City of Surrey at the time. Hundial asked for any meeting notes, whether Cheema was reimbursed and whether Cheema attended other government meetings.
Cheema is claiming, via lawyer Douglas Eyford of Eyford Partners LLP, that the motion by Hundial is false and defamatory and that it implied Cheema discussed city business and “surreptitiously wields influence and power over” McCallum.
Furthermore, Hundial’s motion also implies Cheema was “unethical, dishonest and of disreputable character” and that he “is improperly benefiting from his relationship with the mayor and the City of Surrey.”
As such, Cheema claims his reputation has been damaged while the motion has also “caused him personal embarrassment, distress and humiliation.”
To mitigate these damages, Cheema asked Hundial by letter on Sep. 18 for an unqualified apology and retraction within 48 hours. The Oct. 4 claim states Hundial did not respond to Cheema’s request.
As such, “the malicious, high-handed and arrogant conduct of Hundial warrants an award of punitive damages to ensure Hundial is appropriately punished for his conduct and deterred from such conduct in the future,” notes Cheema’s claim.
Hundial told Glacier Media Tuesday that his motion remains online and any apology should come from whoever is responsible for the minister’s calendar.
“There is an expectation that a public document from a government source should be truthful and accurate,” said Hundial.
Furthermore, Hundial is still asking what Cheema — who is understood not to be a city employee — was doing arranging meetings between government officials and the mayor-elect.
“You have the mayor-elect representing with city staff and provincial officials,” Hundial said. “It’s not a meeting for a layperson.
“In what capacity did he arrange that meeting? And what other meetings had been or continue to be arranged by Cheema?”
Hundial has not filed a response to the claim.
Glacier Media attempted to contact Cheema’s lawyer to provide clarity on Cheema’s working capacity with the then mayor-elect.
Part of Hundial’s motion was to have McCallum respond to the questions by the next meeting, which occurred Monday night.
McCallum, said Hundial, removed the item from the agenda with support (a 5-4 vote) of his four Safe Surrey Coalition councillors.
“Others on council should be expressing why they feel it’s not important to bring forward,” said Hundial. “I will continue to advocate for the public in any questions they have.,”
Hundial is claiming to have qualified privilege to ask the questions raised in the motion.
Those questions arise after a fallout between McCallum and three councillors, including Hundial, this year.
Cheema was a major financier of McCallum’s failed 2014 campaign and appeared to play a significant role for McCallum in 2018, as the mayor thanked him for his support and friendship following the successful election.
Cheema is also suing former Surrey city council candidate Brian Young for defamation after Young took to Twitter last spring, labelling Cheema as “#BackroomBob” and claiming Cheema and McCallum already have a “hand-picked” police chief for the new force.
McCallum promised to establish a municipal police force if elected. But he’s faced criticism for lack of transparency on the issue. Since the election his coalition has cancelled the public safety committee and issued a much-criticized police transition report in consultation with the Vancouver Police Department. Hundial and councillors Brenda Locke and Steven Pettigrew left McCallum’s political umbrella, forming an unofficial four-person block with Coun. Linda Annis.
In August, Farnworth took control of the police transition process by forming a joint transition committee to be chaired by former Attorney General Wally Oppal.
The police issue remains at the top of civic discourse in Surrey. Many citizens are demanding council keep the RCMP and reinstate the public safety committee. Last week, McCallum criticized Farnworth for moving slowly with the transition team.
Another controversial issue facing Surrey is growth and development. McCallum has publicly noted recently how 2019 has proven to be a record year for building permits issued by city hall.