VICTORIA – The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner is encouraging two Greater Victoria mayors to ask for a public inquiry if they have a problem with its report that says the politicians mishandled harassment allegations made against a former police chief.
Rollie Woods, deputy police complaint commissioner, says his office would be happy to provide documents backing up its claims that Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb
Desjardins rushed to conclude an internal investigation against former chief Frank Elsner.
“If they think they’ve been hard done by in any way in this report, we have a considerable body of evidence we would be willing to provide at any public inquiry so the truth would certainly come out,” Woods said in an interview.
Both Helps and Desjardins have said they want to discuss the tone of the report with the solicitor general. Woods said that while the solicitor general can call for a public inquiry, his office has no authority over the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
In a statement, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said his office is still considering the commissioner’s recommendation to strip mayors of the power to discipline police chiefs and their deputies through changes to the Police Act, a move Helps and Desjardins also said they support.
“I appreciate this is an issue and the commissioner makes some valid points that require careful consideration so we’ll be looking at this in a broader context and take time to do it right,” the statement said.
In an interview Saturday, Desjardins said she didn’t dispute commissioner Stan Lowe’s findings but objected to his report’s tone, commentary and allegations.
“It should be a factual report of what happened, what the results were and what the recommendation is. It should not be commentary and speculation on our actions,” she said.
Helps said in a statement posted online that any insinuation that she would protect a man who allegedly bullied or harassed women is “upsetting” because she has worked on women’s rights since she was 15. She and Desjardins aren’t legal experts so they followed the advice they were given by legal counsel at each step along the way, she said.
In the report released Sept. 26, Lowe said Helps and Desjardins “predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.”
As co-chairs of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board, they hired an internal investigator to look at complaints against Elsner. Although the investigator reported that numerous witnesses had made allegations of bullying and harassment against the former chief, Lowe’s report said the mayors chose not to expand the investigator’s mandate to include those allegations.
Elsner, who resigned in early 2017, was found to have committed eight acts of misconduct, including lying to investigators, encouraging a witness to make a false statement and having unwanted physical contact with two female officers. Lowe also said Elsner had been “caught in a web of untruths” that began when the former chief sent inappropriate Twitter messages to the wife of an officer in his department.