Vivian Santos resigns from Winnipeg police board after failing security check

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

Point Douglas city councillor says she doesn't know why security clearance was denied

Coun. Vivian Santos speaks with media outside city hall on Tuesday, after resigning her role on the police board. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

City of Winnipeg Coun. Vivian Santos says she is disappointed to have to resign from her new role on the city's police board after failing to pass a security clearance check.

"I was absolutely surprised," Santos (Point Douglas) said Tuesday afternoon outside city hall. "I've done nothing wrong. I am an open book."

Santos, who is the acting deputy mayor, was appointed to the board last month to fill a seat left vacant after Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) was made board chair.

She said she received a "vague and generic" notification that she had failed the screening. She requested her personal information from police to try to learn more, she said Tuesday, but police refused the request.

Santos said she has no criminal record and was looking forward to working on the police board.

"I don't have skeletons in my closet," she said.

"It does bother me to have this rain cloud over me and my family. I've been trying to rack my brain for the last couple of days to figure out what could possibly be wrong in the police's opinion, and I can't think of anything, and it is unfortunate."

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)

The chair of the police board said he, too, is disappointed with the outcome.

"I was looking forward to working with Coun. Santos on this very important file," said Chambers, who became chair of the board after Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) stepped down from the role.

All board members are screened annually and exhaustively, Chambers said, and the reasons for not passing are not disclosed.

It could have been something like a family connection that was flagged, he said.

"I have a tremendous, tremendous amount of respect for Coun. Santos and know that even though ... there is this issue that has popped up, she is a person of integrity and a person I trust wholeheartedly."

Chambers said he will consult with Mayor Brian Bowman about how to move forward in nominating a new candidate for the role.

The mayor's spokesperson, Jeremy Davis, said in an email Bowman "appreciates Coun. Santos's transparency and looks forward to council's nomination of a new police board member."

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)

Davis said elected members of council are not subject to security checks, and that includes those serving on committees, or in the role of deputy mayor and acting deputy mayor.

Membership on the Winnipeg police board, however, does requires a security check.

"Coun. Santos has confirmed for all members of council that she is not aware of the reason for the security clearance to be denied. As a result, Coun. Santos will continue serving as acting deputy mayor," Davis said.

Ties to alleged drug trafficker

Santos, who was elected in 2018, confirmed to CBC last March that she and her husband are "very good friends" with an alleged drug trafficker.

The Point Douglas councillor 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.

The councillor told police there was absolutely no family connection between her or her husband and the man charged.

"They reached out to me ... and wanted some confirmation," Santos told CBC News at the time. "We do know him on a personal level."

Santos said the man arrested was a "lifelong friend," and she and her husband were "upset, shocked and a little in disbelief," by the allegations, adding they knew nothing about the man's alleged involvement in trafficking cocaine.

While she said at the time it was understandable people would ask questions about her connection with the accused, she maintained they had "every right to be friends" and that officers "basically confirmed there was nothing on my husband and myself."

CBC cannot confirm if Santos's failure to pass the security clearance is related to her connections with the accused drug trafficker.

At Tuesday afternoon's news conference, Santos said she isn't aware of anyone in her family who could've been flagged during the screening process.

Asked whether she has a friend or someone else in her orbit who has been charged with an offence, she said, "I don't even know if he's been charged."

"We're all speculating. To be guilty by association — is that what their [the police's] reason is? I don't know."

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

With files from Bryce Hoye