Harley Chappell says he has no plans to resign from the Surrey Police Board.
The Semiahmoo First Nation chief – responding to suggestions that he should step down from the board due to perceptions of an association between himself and members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club – said he brought up the issue with the other board members in their most recent meeting, on Tuesday (Dec. 15).
“From what I gather, I have their complete support moving forward,” he told Peace Arch News Friday, adding that he is excited to be a part of the board and to be able to represent the the people of South Surrey and the SFN and bring an indigenous perspective to the development of a new Surrey Police Service.
Chappell became the centre of controversy after pictures posted on Facebook – showing him posing with members of the White Rock chapter of the Hells Angels – surfaced the week before last.
Police have long accused the Hells Angels of being involved in organized crime, and Chappell’s father, Philip, was a member of the White Rock chapter until he left in 1992, when Chappell was 15 years old.
The pictures, which show Chappell posing beside a group of men and motorcycles, were taken at a memorial event in 2018. Two of the men have been identified as White Rock Hells Angels Brent Milne and Douglas Riddoch.
“I can’t speculate on why this came up, and why now,” Chappell said. “But it’s important that I address this for the people of South Surrey and the people of the Semiahmoo First Nation.”
Chappell added he feels a need for there to be “an understanding of who I am as as person.”
“I do need to clear the air,” he said.
“I was attending a memorial for the mother of a childhood friend. These men were former associates of my father. That was the only connection, that’s as far as it went. The relationship there is not my history, it’s my father’s history.
“I have nothing to hide. I’m not afraid or ashamed of my history, or afraid or ashamed of my father and his history with the Hells Angels.”
Asked about what memories he had of his father’s involvement in the club, Chappell said he remembered little.
“I was shielded a lot as child, growing up in that environment,” he said.
Vetting done by the office of solicitor general Mike Farnworth before he was appointed to the police board had shown his own record as “unblemished,” he said, although he was surprised to learn that his father’s past connections hadn’t been noted at that time.
“People in Semiahmoo knew who my family is, and who my father was. I do apologize in that regard – I was running on the assumption that it was common knowledge.”
Chappell said that, since leaving the club, his father has worked hard to leave that part of his life behind.
“I love my father, and one thing he’s taught me is a very strong and very hard work ethic and I’ve carried that with me into whatever I do,” he said.
He noted that when he left the Semiahmoo Reserve at the age of 18, his own intention had been been to leave permanently, but that his subsequent life had shown him that he could be of service to the community, ultimately prompting him to come back to reclaim his roots and run for chief four years ago.
“Life has been anything but a smooth road – it’s full of ups and downs, but I’ve been able to build adversity into strength and into an open-minded world view,” he said, adding that his experience has given him a special understanding of the experience of the disadvantaged and the marginalized.
“I think of what one of my elders told me – ‘you respect everyone’,” he said.
“I have respect for human beings. I have respect for everyone, regardless of their history and their past. Is that a downfall? No – that’s a good trait to have. The ability to see people as human beings is a good thing.”
And Chappell said he looks forward to being able to bring that perspective to the police board.
“I see the transition to the Surrey Police Service as being monumental,” he said.
“Being involved in that, to see it through the indigenous lens is a huge. I’m excited to be part of building a progressive and inclusive police service, and I see my upbringing as part of my ability to do that.”