Now that the final investigation report has been completed on the conduct of suspended Victoria police chief Frank Elsner, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) hopes to set the record straight on some of the alleged misinformation that’s been spread by the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board.
According to Deputy Police Compliant Commissioner Rollie Woods, the board provided the OPCC no record on the allegations of workplace harassment Elsner is currently facing, even though the matter had surfaced during an internal investigation launched by the police board.
The allegations pertain to unwanted physical contact with female staff at the police department, making unwelcome remarks of a sexual nature and inappropriate comments that could be seen to objectify female staff members, and leering and inappropriately staring at female staff members.
It wasn’t until a member of the Victoria police union executive came forward to the OPCC with statements from members about the allegations that the commissioner decided to order an investigation, noted Woods.
“They (the board) said nothing to us. They never identified or highlighted it…It did come up in their report that evidence of workplace harassment had come to the attention of the investigator, but that was it. There was nothing more to it,” said Woods, noting the board has a duty to report any allegations of misconduct. “There was some comment there that they (the board) would look at them later, but workplace harassment…it’s a serious matter. If you have a chief constable with even a hint of workplace harassment, especially of a sexual nature, you would think it’s something you would want to look at right away.”
The case dates back to August 2015 when the police board launched an internal investigation after a concern was brought to their attention regarding private Twitter messages exchanged between Elsner and the wife (a female officer from the Saanich Police Department) of an officer under his command. An independent lawyer investigated the matter and concluded there was an inappropriate use of direct messaging and social media.
Elsner apologized for his behaviour and the board voted to keep him on as chief while imposing undisclosed discipline. A report on the investigation was also sent to the OPCC, which ordered two public trust investigations — one of them involving allegations of workplace harassment.
The commissioner also criticized the board’s co-chairs — Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins — over how they lead the investigation, noting Desjardins initially told media there was no current investigation, which she was later ordered to correct.
Elsner was suspended last April by one of the two retired judges appointed to act as the discipline authorities on the matter, but the board decided to continue paying his $207,000 annual salary and legal fees.
The retired judges recently determined eight of the 11 allegations of misconduct will head to a discipline proceeding slated to begin April 21. Sufficient evidence was found for the Twitter matter to proceed to a hearing, along with allegations Elsner provided misleading information to a member under his command and an investigator, used police equipment and/or facilities for purposes unrelated to his duties and attempted to procure the making of an oral and/or written statement from a potential witness, knowing the statement was false or misleading.
Earlier this week, the police board filed a court petition asking for an order that requires the OPCC to hand over the final investigation reports and copies of the decision from the two judges.
Since at least three of the board members, including Helps and Desjardins, could be called as potential witnesses during the hearings, Woods explained there would be a conflict with releasing the documents at this time since it wouldn’t be appropriate for the mayors to review evidence from other witnesses.
He also noted the board could have made the decision to suspend Elsner without pay a long time ago due to the seriousness of the allegations. All they’d have to do is satisfy it’s in the public interest — something Woods claims the board failed to mention to the public.
Helps, however, said the board has determined it needs more information to decide whether that public interest threshold is met. She believes the documents could be released to the other board members who aren’t potential witnesses.
“I hope the police compliant commissioner will agree there’s lots of creative ways that information can be provided without compromising (the discipline hearing). The police board members are sworn members, they swear an oath and a confidentiality agreement,” said Helps, noting the board provided all of the documentation it had from the internal investigation to the OPCC.
“We can bicker about when this and that came to light and who brought this to light…What’s important is this information has come to light, it has been investigated and now it’s proceeding to a disciplinary hearing. What I am interested in is bringing this matter to a close so that everybody involved can get on with it so the allegations can either be substantiated or not.”