Elsner probe could have been launched sooner, chief justice suggests

VANCOUVER — The police complaint commissioner should have launched a public-trust investigation into Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner’s Twitter messages when he first learned of the allegations, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson suggested Wednesday.

Stan Lowe knew Elsner was the chief constable and that he was involved with the wife of one of his subordinate officers, Hinkson noted. “What do you need to conclude public confidence might be shaken?”

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Hindsight is always 20-20, replied Brock Martland, the lawyer representing the police complaint commissioner. If Lowe had known in early September 2015 what he later learned, a different decision could have been made, he said.

Hinkson is presiding over Elsner’s petition to quash a public-trust investigation by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner into Twitter messages Elsner sent to the wife of one of his subordinates.

Lowe ordered the investigation on Dec. 18, about three months after he learned of the allegations against the police chief.

By then, an internal investigation launched by the co-chairwomen of the Victoria police board had already wrapped up and the chief had been disciplined. On Dec. 4, a written letter of reprimand was put in his file.

Elsner, who was suspended in April, is arguing that Lowe does not have the authority to order an investigation into conduct that has already been the subject of an internal investigation.

Martland told the court that Lowe had very limited information in September 2015 about the device used or the Twitter account.

The commissioner had general information and an understanding of the Twitter messages, but he didn’t have documents, records or reports, he said.

And at the time, Victoria and Esquimalt mayors Lisa Helps and Barb Desjardins, co-chairwomen of the Victoria police board, advocated through their lawyer for the matter to be dealt with internally.

“The commissioner agreed to that approach based on the information he had at the time. … He should be entitled to start from the point of trusting the mayors to honestly and fairly undertake the process,” Martland said, adding that Lowe did not expect there would be further misconduct or public trust elements to it.

A lot had changed by December, when Lowe ordered an external investigation into five allegations of misconduct, Martland said.

Lowe was concerned that Officer B was never told what happened between his wife and Elsner, he said.

“To this day, it remains a grave concern. It remains unclear what he was told.”

The Victoria City Police Union was also raising concerns, Martland said, and both Desjardins and Elsner made misleading statements to the media, misrepresenting the findings of Patricia Gallivan’s preliminary investigation report.

The lawyer had been hired by Helps and Desjardins to investigate their concerns over 48 social media messages involving the chief.

Desjardins told the media the investigation found no inappropriate relationship.

Elsner told reporters he was ashamed of his actions, but saw it as a learning opportunity.

“You stand up and tell the truth, and learn from it, and move on.” Then he told reporters he had been investigated and “they found no inappropriate relationship.”

But court heard Tuesday that Gallivan had reviewed six months of “salacious and sexually charged” Twitter messages and learned of a hug and a kiss in the office between Elsner and the subordinate officer’s wife.

She found the relationship to be inappropriate.

By Dec. 18, new misconduct is alleged and there’s new information about the social media account, Martland said.

The hearing ended Wednesday.

Hinkson has reserved his decision to a future date.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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