Saanich mayor says he’s being spied on; admits lying about affair

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell has admitted that he lied about having an extramarital affair and says he is asking B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner to investigate how details of a domestic dispute between him and the woman’s boyfriend were leaked to the media.

Atwell also said that Saanich information technology staff installed spyware on computers in his municipal office and that regional traffic police are unfairly targeting him.

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He made his remarks at a hastily called news conference Monday at a meeting room in the Data Tech Business Centre on McKenzie Avenue, instead of at Saanich Municipal Hall.

“I was not totally truthful when I denied allegations that I had an extramarital affair. I wanted to protect the people who are close to me, and still do,” Atwell said.

Atwell, who is married, repeatedly told reporters last week that he was not having an affair with a female election-campaign worker, with whom he had discussions about a high-level Saanich municipal staff job.

Saanich police were called to a home on the evening of Dec. 11 after Atwell called 911, alleging he had been assaulted by the woman’s fiancé as Atwell was leaving the home. No charges were laid and Saanich police refused to comment.


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Atwell said he is asking B.C.’s police complaint commissioner to look into how details of the call were leaked to media.

“I do have concerns about the way the investigation was handled and how details of the incident became public,” he said.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner did not return calls for comment on whether it has received a complaint. [update]

Also on Dec. 11, Atwell said, he discovered that a member of Saanich’s information technology staff was instructed to install spyware on his and other computers at the municipal hall. As a result, he will be not be working at the municipal hall.

“I was told the spying program, called Spector 360, was to capture information typed and accessed on my computer, and report any usage back to a server controlled by another user or users. I am told that server is called ‘Langley’ and is based at Saanich Municipal Hall,” Atwell said. “I was never informed of this action and it was done without my consent. Without my knowledge, someone was planning to spy on everything I did on my computer.”

Atwell said the actions may amount to criminal interception of private communications under the Criminal Code.

He said his lawyer wrote to Saanich Police Chief Bob Downie asking him to “request an external police entity to investigate the allegations as we believe the oversight of the investigation places Saanich in a clear conflict of interest. We also provided police with three sworn affidavits from individuals with knowledge of the installation of the software.”

The mayor said he’s concerned about monitoring of not only his private communications but emails from citizens trying to contact him. “It is also why I have not felt secure and comfortable working from the mayor’s office,” he said. Atwell said he has established an email account outside the district’s domain.

Since he was sworn in on Dec. 1, Atwell has not kept regular office hours and municipal staff often don’t know his schedule or where he is.

Atwell also said he was pulled over by police on four occasions — twice as a mayoral candidate, once as mayor-elect and once as mayor. In two cases, he said, the officer asked him to blow into a roadside breathalyzer device, which “I believe was done without reasonable suspicion.”

Atwell said he had a zero blood-alcohol level on both tests. He did not make it clear which police department pulled him over, but said he has asked the head of the Integrated Road Safety Unit to look into the road stops.

Atwell left without answering questions after making his 10-minute statement.

RCMP Staff Sgt. James Anderson, who heads the Integrated Road Safety Unit, said he was not aware of any such request until he saw news stories late Monday afternoon.

Downie, the Saanich police chief, responded to the allegations in a statement: “To date, Mayor Atwell has not informed me as to his concerns regarding harassment or information being leaked to the media regarding an incident that occurred on Dec. 11, 2014. He did advise me of concerns that he had regarding software installed on his work computer at the Saanich Municipal Hall. That matter has been reviewed and council will be advised of the outcome this evening.”

The results of that review were not revealed during the public portion of Saanich’s council meeting Monday.

Asked about the review Monday evening, Atwell said: “Nothing has been presented to council. It is still under investigation as far as I’m concerned.”

Downie said if the mayor has concerns about the conduct of any police officer, he should bring the complaint forward for an investigation, or report concerns to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

“As we have not received any formal complaint from Mayor Atwell regarding the conduct of the Saanich police or its officers, it is difficult to provide additional information and as such, I will not be making any further statement at this time,” Downie said.

Kris Constable, a Victoria-based privacy and security expert, said if monitoring software was installed, as Atwell alleges, it’s important to note whether it was tracking just the mayor’s computer or several devices at municipal hall, and if was targeted monitoring or monitoring of the same thing on all machines.

Reasons for monitoring workplace computer use can be broad, Constable said, and range from looking for flagrant abuse — pornography viewing, for example — to monitoring a user’s every keystroke.

Under Canadian privacy laws, employees are supposed to be told that they are being monitored and the purpose of that monitoring, said Constable, adding it’s also important to find out who was permitted to see the results.

Michael Prince, Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, said the Saanich mayor made several allegations in “a drive-by” fashion, but offered little explanation. “There’s a sense of paranoia here and being under attack by the people who supposedly serve him and work with him,” Prince said.

Prince said Atwell seems to want three inquiries — the spyware inquiry, the road-check inquiry and a probe into the alleged leak over the Dec. 11 police incident — “and then he slips in, by the way, I did have an extramarital affair. Boom.”

Coun. Susan Brice said she can’t speak to any of Atwell’s concerns about spyware, but she has total confidence in municipal equipment.

Brice said Atwell’s issues are becoming a distraction. “Any time you get pulled away from focusing on the things that you want to do in office, obviously there’s time, there’s energy, there’s staff, there’s all aspects that go into being able to do your work. I am not pleased to have diversions from our work.”

After Monday night’s council meeting, Saanich Coun. Leif Wergeland said: “There’s a lot of distrust and lack of confidence on council’s part and [Atwell has] got a long way to go to prove his leadership.”

Last week, Atwell acknowledged in an interview with the Times Colonist that during the municipal election campaign, he and the woman involved in the Dec. 11 police incident had talked about her becoming Saanich’s chief of staff, a position that doesn’t exist. “We had talks about members of staff and possible positions and things like that, but none of that has been properly pursued,” he said last week.

On Monday, he said he wanted to “dispel any rumour or speculation” that he had offered the woman a job.

Last month, Atwell was unanimously censured by the eight Saanich councillors for acting unilaterally, before he was sworn into office, to push chief administrative officer Paul Murray out of his job. That move cost Saanich taxpayers about $480,000 in severance.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

charnett@timescolonist.com

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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