Barb Desjardins responded to a scathing report from the police commissioner into her role during the investigation into former Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner. (Don Denton/News staff)

‘Set up for failure:’ Esquimalt mayor responds to Elsner report

Both Barb Desjardins and Victoria mayor Lisa Helps were co-chairs on police chief investigation

After a report from the police commissioner was released Wednesday recommending mayors not take part in disciplinary actions of police matters, Esquimalt mayor Barbara Desjardins said the decision was “very welcome.”

“Frankly, we didn’t want the job the first time, in terms of having to do that investigation. [We] want somebody to do it who has the expertise and the knowledge. That is not necessarily the mayor,” she said. “You’re set up for failure.”

Desjardins and Victoria mayor Lisa Helps were co-chairs on the internal discipline process for former Victoria police chief Frank Elsner. After he was found to have committed eight acts of misconduct under the Police Act, the review’s commissioner, Stan Lowe, recommended the Police Act be amended so that only retired judges, who would have the experience and knowledge necessary for the position, be in charge of such proceedings.

After the review’s findings were released on Wednesday, Sept. 26, Helps said she agreed with the recommendation to use retired judges for deciding police disciplinary cases, adding that the two mayors were “way out of our depth.”

RELATED: Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps ‘100 per cent agrees’ with OPCC’s findings on ex-police chief investigation

Desjardins said, “The allegations and suggestion by the PCC that we did have information and withheld it is absolutely outrageous and harmful and it’s wrong.”

The Esquimalt mayor said she and Helps followed the advice and direction of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. Desjardins said they never saw the direct complaints or the inappropriate Twitter messages. When new complaints came up during the Twitter investigation, the mayors decided new allegations should be part of another separate investigation. She would not share what complaints arose during the Twitter investigation, but said they were not from the union regarding sexual harassment.

“Had we received those from them, this would have been a very different story and a very different process,” she said. “As two female mayors, I can tell you that I would not have allowed that not to be investigated.”

READ MORE: Review upholds discipline ruling into former Victoria police chief Frank Elsner

When asked what she thought about how the report was released — less than a month before the municipal election in which both Helps and Desjardins are running for re-election — Desjardins said it’s concerning.

“The Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner had information in early 2018 that could have concluded everything. The findings were such that the chief was already resigned… I’m not sure why the OPCC would want to continue this,” she said, adding the way the report was released was “challenging” as she didn’t know when it was coming out or what it said.

In response to the section of the review of the investigation that said the mayors were uncooperative and seemed to have predetermined the outcome of the process, Desjardins said it was a “preposterous notion.”

She repeated the two mayors did not have all of the information, and said she hopes the report doesn’t hurt police boards which are made up of volunteers.

“We need in the future to have the Office do what is in their mandate: assist and advise.”

keili.bartlett@blackpress.ca


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