Comment: Mayors did their best in handling complex police-chief case

I have been puzzled by the news coverage of former Victoria police chief Frank Elsner’s misconduct.

Instead of an analysis of why our system still allows an individual with an apparent propensity to abuse power to rise to the level of police chief, the majority of the discussion seemed to focus on character assassinations of mayors Barb Desjardins and Lisa Helps.

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I witnessed much of this investigation from the sidelines at the time, and can attest that the mayors were deeply concerned about honouring their responsibility to oversee the investigation diligently and honorably, and in that capacity, they sought expert legal guidance to ensure that due process was followed.

As they will be the first to attest, the mayors were functioning under a bad system. Mayors should not be in charge of disciplining a chief of police, any more than you or I should. What is being portrayed as secrecy was in fact the mandate of our legal system, which declares we are innocent until proven guilty and which imposes limits of confidentiality on matters that are under active investigation.

To imply that the mayors were wilfully obfuscating rather than doing their best to fulfil their responsibility, be guided by their legal counsel and uphold the laws of our country doesn’t make sense. It has also been implied that the mayors somehow could have clairvoyantly intuited Elsner’s propensity for abusing his power. This is absurd.

Elsner presented one face to the public and his superiors, and another side to women one on one. To say that Elsner would have shown that face to the mayors, who were in authority over him, shows a wilful or naïve misunderstanding of the nature of abusive power dynamics.

Even police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe took a long time, in his far more expert capacity, to pursue and conclude his investigation of Elsner’s conduct. Finally, the hiring committee that selected chief Elsner in 2013 were also clearly unable to perceive that Elsner was unsuited in this way for a leadership role.

At all times and during election season in particular, we cannot afford to consume all information as truth. Our society needs to mature significantly in this regard and learn to consider critically the agenda of the source, particularly when it comes to character assassinations at election time.

Controversy quickly and easily gets attention. The truth is often much more mundane and far more honorable.

I saw smart and generous people, doing their best under circumstances that were far more complex and challenging that we would all love to believe. Our mayors are accessible people — we are privileged in this regard. There are many avenues for you to direct your questions and concerns to them directly.

Do not read a Facebook post or listen to the radio and assume you have the facts straight.

Attend the debates, sit down with Helps at her Friday community sessions or meet them for a cup of coffee.

If we don’t act with honour in these times, we are at risk of driving out the best of our citizens who might be willing to serve us in government, and we run the real risk of attracting those whose love of power is their only reason for being there.

Suzanne Bradbury is a former chair of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

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