It’s been three months since Victoria’s police chief Frank Elsner voluntarily stepped aside for an external investigation into his conduct on social media.
Now Elsner has filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court, seeking an order to stop the investigation and prohibit the chief superintendent from taking further action.
In court documents filed earlier this week, Elsner claims police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe has no authority to order an external investigation in relation to conduct that had already been investigated internally. He also claims Lowe relied on irrelevant and/or extraneous considerations in issuing the order, including media reports with respect to his conduct.
All the drama began last August when the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board launched an internal investigation after a concern was brought to their attention regarding private messages that were exchanged on Twitter between Elsner and the wife (a female officer from Saanich) of an officer under his command.
An independent lawyer investigated the matter and concluded there was no inappropriate relationship, but there was inappropriate use of direct messaging and social media. What those messages said has not been revealed.
The police board voted to keep Elsner on as chief and imposed undisclosed discipline, but a report on the investigation was sent to the Office of the Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) — a civilian watchdog that oversees police conduct — to determine whether it was necessary to order a public trust investigation into the matter.
Lowe ordered two public trust investigations — one of them involving allegations of workplace harassment. The investigations were to be completed within six months, with Chief Superintendent Sean Bourrie of the RCMP assigned as chief investigator, along with a team of senior officers from the Vancouver police.
In the supreme court petition, Elsner makes a number of claims, noting he only consented with the appointment of an independent investigator to conduct the internal investigation and was advised the matter would be kept confidential.
The preliminary report from that investigation also addresses allegations that Elsner spoke to two witnesses connected to the investigation. The independent investigator found Elsner contacted those individuals namely to have his Twitter account shut down, and wanted to apologize for putting them in a difficult position.
“His conduct did not affect the integrity of the investigation,” the petition states.
As for the external investigation, the petition notes it basically relates to the same issues as the internal investigation, but Bourrie has taken steps to search various electronic devices and phone records. His rank, however, is not equivalent to or higher than Elsner’s, therefore he does not have authority for the RCMP as a whole.
Since they made the internal discipline decision, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps have been named as the respondents in the petition. The co-chairs of the police board have 21 days to reply.