A provincial court judge has found Doug McCallum, the former mayor of Surrey, B.C., not guilty of public mischief.
The 78-year-old was accused of lying to police in September 2021 by falsely accusing a political opponent of deliberately running over his foot after she confronted him in a supermarket parking lot.
In his decision, Judge Reginald Harris said he believed the medical and physical evidence proved that Debi Johnstone ran over McCallum’s foot.
He also found that errors in McCallum’s statement were likely the result of “distorted memory” as a result of shock.
More to come.
A verdict is expected today in the public mischief trial of Doug McCallum, the former mayor of Surrey, B.C.
The 78-year-old is accused of lying to police in September 2021 by falsely accusing a political opponent of deliberately running over his foot after she confronted him in a Save-On-Foods parking lot.
Judge Reginald Harris’ decision comes a little more than a week after closing arguments in a trial that stretched over two weeks.
Diverging stories and a difficult shrub
McCallum was charged with public mischief under a section of the Criminal Code that makes it an offence to lie to police in order to see someone accused of a crime they did not commit.
The charge arose from a chance encounter on Sept. 4, when Debi Johnstone spotted the former mayor walking toward the grocery store as she manoeuvred her open-top convertible Mustang through the parking lot.
Johnstone is a member of a group that opposed McCallum’s plans to replace Surrey’s RCMP detachment with a municipal police force.
On the stand, she claimed she shouted, “resign, McCallum,” after seeing the former mayor, and then launched into a profane tirade when he walked over to her car.
It’s at that point McCallum’s and Johnstone’s stories diverge.
She claimed she drove away without hitting him. He claimed that she ran over his left foot.
CCTV footage of the incident was inconclusive because McCallum’s foot and Johnstone’s wheel were both obscured by a small shrub.
Special prosecutor Richard Fowler said the version of events McCallum gave in 911 calls and a police statement was clearly at odds with the video.
McCallum repeatedly claimed Johnstone “pinned” him against his car, and also suggested she “tore” away from him — neither of which occurred.
His lawyers chalked the differences up to shock and the frailty of human memory, but Fowler said McCallum was “not an individual without some level of sophistication” and that his words “were not simply reckless hyperbole.”
‘Intentionally exploited an obvious accident’
McCallum did not testify.
Beyond Johnstone, the court heard from the principal RCMP investigator on the file and a number of expert witness called by defence to establish that McCallum’s lack of limp immediately after the incident was not inconsistent with his foot being run over by a car.
Defence lawyer Richard Peck pointed to what he called the “toxic fanaticism” of McCallum’s detractors; Johnstone herself admitted to calling the former mayor a “scaly-faced motherf—er” in an apparent reference to a skin condition.
His lawyers contended that he had reason to bring a criminal harassment complaint against the 66-year-old and that his foot was — in fact — run over.
Fowler countered that even if Johnstone’s back tire had made contact with the top of McCallum’s foot, the evidence showed he “intentionally exploited what was an obvious accident by deliberately characterizing it as something it was not.”
‘He simply reported very alarming behaviour’
Both the defence and the Crown said they could find only a few cases of a similar nature to act as precedent.
That led to a spirited discussion between the judge and the lawyers about the way the section of the Criminal Code pertaining to McCallum’s charge was written.
During the trial, Harris asked a number of questions about the law and the circumstances of the case.
At one point, he pondered whether the fact that McCallum didn’t try to feign a limp might work in his favour, because that would be what a person might expect of someone lying about their foot being run over.
In his closing arguments, Peck’s co-counsel, Eric Gottardi, said the purpose of the law on public mischief is to protect people from false accusations and to ensure that police time is not wasted on wild goose chases.
“McCallum is not trying to waste police resources or silence an opponent,” Gottardi concluded.
“He simply reported very alarming behaviour from Ms. Johnstone in a long line of alarming behaviour from Ms. Johnstone.”
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