Winnipeg Coun. Vivian Santos reconsiders resignation from police board

A Winnipeg city councillor has resigned from her role on the city's police board after failing to pass a security clearance check.

Winnipeg defence lawyer says Santos has right to know why she failed check, calls rules vague and confusing

Coun. Santos said Tuesday she was disappointed she had to resign after failing to pass a mandatory security check as part of being on the police board. One day later, she said she is considering rescinding that resignation. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A city councillor who resigned from Winnipeg's police board says she is reconsidering her decision.

Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas), who was was appointed to the board last month, resigned Tuesday after failing the police screening that is a requirement for being on the board.

Now, she's considering rescinding that resignation.

"I do feel that the Winnipeg police have acted arbitrarily and have denied me procedural fairness," Santos said in a tweet Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Santos said she had no idea why she failed the screening test but said she would resign regardless. Police refused to tell her why, she said.

She said Wednesday she wasn't prepared to elaborate on what has changed her mind.

In addition to possibly rescinding her resignation, Santos now says she may also pursue legal options to clear her name.

Winnipeg police said Tuesday they do not comment on individual security checks, but pointed to eligibility criteria for police board members included in the Police Services Act.

After Santos's resignation announcement Tuesday, Winnipeg defence lawyer Scott Newman weighed in on Twitter, saying Santos's failed security check raises questions about the requirement.

He doesn't think police should be performing background checks on those tasked with overseeing them.

"Who should be the final decision-maker as to whether or not somebody is of good character? Is it the mayor? Is it city council? Is it the Winnipeg police?" he said in an interview with CBC Wednesday.

"It would be weird to say the police can veto who is providing oversight to them."

The legislation surrounding police board eligibility is vague and confusing, Newman said.

"It doesn't say that failing the background check is a barrier to being appointed to the police board," he said, and also seems to suggest that the appointing body — city council — has final say after the background check results are in.

"The police can't give a thumbs up, thumbs down; they can just provide that information to the appointing body. That's one possible interpretation."

Winnipeg defence lawyer Scott Newman says the police board legislation is murky. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

In March, Santos told CBC News she and her husband were good friends with a man facing drug trafficking charges.

She said she had been contacted by Winnipeg police officers around that time, enquiring whether she or her husband were related to a man who had been arrested.

But she said she didn't know about the friend's alleged involvement in selling drugs.

CBC News hasn't confirmed whether that contributed to the failed security check. Asked Tuesday whether she believes it was a factor, Santos said she didn't know and wouldn't speculate.

Mayor Brian Bowman said it's unfortunate more information wasn't provided to Santos. 

He thinks the failed security screening, and her resignation, warrant further consideration by the police board.

"I was very proud to support councillor Santos's nomination to that board," he said, adding the vote was unanimous.

City council appointed Santos, who is also acting deputy mayor, to the police board to fill a hole left by Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River). He took over as chair of the board last month when Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood Coun. Kevin Klein stepped down.

"She works hard," Bowman said. "She is very passionate about the issues affecting our city and her community."

Coun. Vivian Santos, centre, seen here in a 2018 file photo, was appointed to the police board after Coun. Markus Chambers, right was named chair last month. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

He said he has had conversations with police board chair Chambers as recently as Wednesday about concerns over the background check review process.

Chambers said he supports RCMP taking over background checks for current and prospective police board members. That would increase transparency, he said, "so that the [Winnipeg] Police Service itself is not restricting input to the board."

Newman said Santos has a right to know why she failed the check, and she has the right to defend herself under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"There has to be some kind of a process in place that allows you to correct errors, to have an appeal process so you can in essence clear your name now," he said.

"Your name has been dragged through the mud to say … 'we're not satisfied that you are a trustworthy person.'"

Vivian Santos reconsiders resignation from police board

3 years ago
Duration 2:08
Winnipeg lawyer takes issue with police board legislation, process


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC. He has won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade, and a 2023 Prairie region award for an audio documentary about a Chinese-Canadian father passing down his love for hockey to the next generation of Asian Canadians.

With files from Erin Brohman, Sean Kavanagh and Holly Caruk