Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says the city’s police board agrees with a court petition by suspended chief Frank Elsner and believes an investigation into his conduct by the province’s police complaint commissioner should be quashed.
Chief Elsner was suspended earlier this year, after the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner revealed it had ordered its third investigation into his conduct. Those investigations are ongoing.
He publicly apologized last December for sending inappropriate online messages to another officer’s wife. The content of the messages has not been revealed.
The chief filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court in March and said the first investigation – which focuses on his Twitter messages and conduct during an internal probe – should be quashed.
The petition argued the commissioner does not have the authority to order an external investigation for conduct that has already been investigated internally.
The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board announced on Thursday that Chief Elsner’s petition will be heard in November.
Ms. Helps said the board’s view that the first investigation ordered by the police-complaint commissioner should be quashed is not about backing Chief Elsner, but about supporting the board’s interpretation of British Columbia’s Police Act.
“It’s less about the content of the investigation and more about the process. We followed the Police Act and we think the Police Act should be upheld, and we think that the way we proceeded did that.”
Ms. Helps and Barbara Desjardins, the mayor of Esquimalt and police board co-chair, have been criticized for initially telling reporters that the chief was not being investigated internally. The investigation had actually just wrapped up. Critics have argued that the board’s response was misleading, but Ms. Helps has said it was limited in what it could reveal about a personnel issue.
Ms. Desjardins’s affidavit said once the internal investigation concluded, she and Ms. Helps determined that a letter of reprimand would be placed in Chief Elsner’s personnel file.
Ms. Helps said Thursday that the board’s view is one of principle. “What the board wants to see resolved is what is the ambit of the OPCC in relation to this provision of the Police Act, where there’s an internal investigation that’s already been concluded,” she said.
The mayor said she is curious to see “whether the OPCC can indeed, according to a judge, say, ‘Okay, well that happened, but it doesn’t matter, we’re going to do another process anyway.’
“That’s really what’s at stake,” she said, “not the content of the initial disciplinary finding.”
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner declined to comment on the mayor’s remarks. The office has not yet filed its response to Chief Elsner’s court petition. Ms. Helps and Ms. Desjardins are also listed along with the OPCC as respondents in the case, though the police board itself is not.
The parties are to return to court on Sept. 30, when Chief Elsner will apply to seal the content of the Twitter messages and the internal investigation report. His petition is to be heard over four days in mid-November by B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson.
The first two investigations ordered by the police complaint commissioner, Stan Lowe, are scheduled to conclude by Sept. 16. The third is set for late October. The second investigation ordered by the police complaint commissioner focuses on allegations of workplace harassment.
The third investigation will examine whether Chief Elsner tried to influence investigations into his conduct by attempting to procure a false statement from a potential witness. Mr. Lowe has said the investigation will also examine whether the chief tried to delete e-mails from a department archive.
The allegations, which have not been proven, are being investigated by members of the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department.
Chief Elsner took over the Victoria department in January, 2014, after four years as police chief in Sudbury. His online biography said he had more than 30 years of experience, including time with the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police.Report Typo/Error