Former Victoria police chief Elsner receives unprecedented penalty

Former Victoria police chief Frank Elsner will never wear a police uniform in Canada again.

Although Elsner resigned in May 2017, his service record will now show that he committed eight acts of misconduct under the Police Act which would have resulted in his dismissal from policing.

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“These findings and discipline measures are unprecedented in Canadian policing,” B.C. police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe said Wednesday.

Two retired judges acting for the commissioner determined that Elsner committed six acts of discreditable conduct, including three of workplace harassment, one act of deceit and one act of inappropriate use of police equipment.

Other disciplinary action which will be reflected on his service record include 30-day suspensions and training requirement in ethics, harassment and sensitivity, all of which will go on his record.

“I have concluded that the decisions and discipline proposed by the retired judges are well reasoned and appropriate … Therefore, there is no need to call a public hearing on these matters,” said Lowe.

Since his resignation, Elsner has launched a cannabis consulting business — his profile on Linked In says he is principal consultant for UMBRA Strategic Solutions, which provides security consulting to marijuana businesses.

For women to feel safe and valued in policing, it is especially crucial that the most senior officers conduct themselves with integrity and respect, said Lowe.

“The determinations of retired judge Ian Pitfield demonstrate the deficit in leadership the former chief exhibited. His conduct caused emotional harm and violated the dignity of the affected parties, the gravity of which is amplified by his position of power and the importance held by a chief constable,” said Lowe.

The commissioner is calling for changes to the Police Act. After reviewing the handling of the matter by Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, the co-chairs of the Victoria police board, Lowe has written to the provincial government recommending that a retired judge, not a mayor, be appointed to serve as discipline authority for misconduct matters involving allegations about a chief or deputy chief of a municipal police department.

“It makes little sense to entrust the responsibility of a discipline authority to a person who lacks the requisite training and has no understanding of the complexities of the police discipline system,” said the commissioner.

In August 2015, Helps and Desjardins received information that Elsner had exchanged personal and sexually charged messages on Twitter with the wife of one of his officers. The allegations were initially addressed through an internal investigation process. The mayors placed a discipline letter on Elsner’s file.

On Dec. 18, 2015, Lowe found the internal investigation failed the test of fairness, accountability and transparency under the Police Act. He removed Helps and Desjardins as discipline authorities and ordered two external investigations. The first dealt with the Twitter messages and information suggesting Elsner misled people in the course of the internal investigation.

The second dealt with allegations of sexual harassment of female police officers at the Victoria Police Department. Vancouver police and the RCMP conducted a detailed investigation of both matters. During the investigation that involved Twitter messages, five additional allegations of misconduct surfaced.

Retired judge Carol Baird Ellan found Elsner engaged in conduct with the wife of a serving member that constituted breach of trust and conflict of interest, misled a subordinate in connection with a disciplinary investigation, provided misleading information to an internal investigator, attempted to have a witness provide a false statement to the investigators, and inappropriately used police department equipment and facilities.

Pitfield determined Elsner had physical contact with two woman officers that was unwanted and made inappropriate remarks of a physical nature toward one of them.

Outside Victoria City Hall, Helps said she wholeheartedly agrees with the recommendation to change the Police Act so that mayors are no longer discipline authorities, and the police board has endorsed that stance.

“We’re mayors. We’re not experts. We follow the advice of the OPCC (Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner). We hired an investigator to do the internal investigation … and we followed the direction we were given,” said Helps.

The mayor — who once said Elsner’s “the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time” — said she’s now appalled at the behaviour and abuse of power by the former chief.

“It makes me really uncomfortable. It’s really troubling that he was able to pull the wool over people’s eyes, including my eyes,” she said.

The police board probably needed better legal advice and definitely needed a better investigation and some advice and support along the way, said Helps.

The police board has not paid Elsner’s legal bills since May 2016. Helps said she will release the total cost of the misconduct investigations in coming weeks. That cost was already $693,000 in June 2017.

“It won’t be a pretty figure,” said Helps.

The Victoria Police Department has been resilient in moving on from a time when members expressed no confidence in their chief and police board, said Lowe. It’s now under the command of a new chief and executives, all promoted from within its ranks. Del Manak was appointed police chief in June 2017.

“There is good reason to expect the VicPD executive will cultivate a supportive environment that facilitates women in reaching their full potential professionally, including promotion through the ranks,” said the commissioner.

In the end, the process shows that those in executive positions of policing are to be held to a higher standard of ethical conduct than those in the rank and file, said Lowe.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

• A summary of Lowe’s report — Review of the Investigations and Disciplinary Process Concerning Frank Elsner — can be read at this link.

 

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