Police called after Saanich mayor involved in altercation

Saanich police were called to an altercation involving newly elected Mayor Richard Atwell, who is the chairman of the police board, in December.

Sources say that police were called to the home of an Atwell campaign supporter about 11 p.m. on Dec. 11.

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Atwell, who had been sworn in as mayor 10 days earlier, had apparently been in the home with the woman when her fiancé arrived. Sources say an altercation between Atwell and the man ensued and police were called.

Citing “third-party confidentiality,” Saanich police refused to acknowledge that they responded to the woman’s address, let alone release any details of what ensued.

“I’ve had discussions with those here around the office that may be in the know and I can’t comment at all,” said Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Steve Eassie.

“I know that our relationship from the past is one that I would normally be able to share details with you, but I’m not able to share anything.”

Atwell, who ran on a platform of openness and transparency, did not return phone calls or respond to emails requesting comment. He could not be reached at his office, where staff said they did not know if or when he would be in, as he does not keep regular office hours. Although there were vehicles in the driveway of his house in the Falaise area, near Royal Oak Burial Park, no one responded to knocks on the door Monday.

Told of the incident, Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, a non-profit political watchdog, said Atwell needs to tell constituents about what happened.

“He should have been first out of the gate to say an incident happened, police were called and I wanted to be completely forthright with my electorate so they didn’t hear about it through rumours and innuendo,” Travis said.

“Protecting the privacy of the woman in question and the fiancé, depending upon the circumstances of the altercation, is a separate privacy matter, but he’s definitely a public figure.”

Atwell’s role as chairman of the Saanich Police Board “puts him in a very difficult position and it also, frankly, puts the police in a very difficult position because, in the future, it could raise questions going both ways,” Travis said.

Further, Travis said, if police have not already done so, they should hand the case over to a third party to investigate.

“Given his position in Saanich, I think it would be incumbent on the Saanich police to seek an outside force to do the investigation, if there’s still an investigation to be done, and to provide whatever opinion to go forward, should an opinion be required for a Crown prosecutor.”

No charges have been filed. It’s not known whether the police have concluded their investigation or whether any charges have been recommended.

Eassie would not comment as to whether a third party has been called in.

The campaign supporter did not return calls for comment.

Atwell, who held no elected office prior to being elected mayor in November, has had a rough transition into the job. Last month, the new mayor was unanimously censured by his councillors for acting unilaterally to push chief administrative officer Paul Murray out of his job, a move that cost Saanich taxpayers about $480,000 in severance.

Sources told the Times Colonist that before being sworn in, Atwell, accompanied by lawyer Troy DeSouza, who does not work for the municipality, met with Murray. They told Murray that Atwell wanted him gone and to begin negotiating a retirement package. A statement from councillors said Atwell’s actions so tarnished the district’s relationship with their chief administrative officer that they had no choice but to follow through.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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