Manitoba

Winnipeg police board chair wants review of security checks after councillor's resignation

The chair of the Winnipeg Police Board says he will make a motion calling for a review of how background checks are conducted in other parts of Canada at Thursday's city council meeting, in an attempt to make the process in Winnipeg more transparent, and to protect the Winnipeg Police Service from being unable to defend itself.

Coun. Markus Chambers says motion is an effort to make Winnipeg's process more transparent, improve policing

Coun. Markus Chambers wants the public service to review how police board background checks are done in other parts of Canada. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The chair of the Winnipeg Police Board wants a review of how background checks are conducted in other parts of Canada, in the hopes of making the process more transparent and shielding the police from undue criticism.

The motion, to be made by Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) at Thursday's city council meeting, comes amid criticism of the process, after Coun. Vivan Santos was appointed to the board but failed her security check.

"I want to be certain that our Winnipeg Police Service isn't put in a position, like they have been, to defend themselves in terms of the background checks that they do," Chambers said.

Provincial legislation and a Winnipeg bylaw requires all potential police board members to pass background security checks prior to their appointment.

But the WPS conducts background checks in other circumstances, including on people working in child and family services, daycares, and "high-security locations such as banks or higher levels of government," Chambers noted.

The Winnipeg Police Service conducts security checks for appointees to the city's police board, but does them for various other professionals as well, said Chambers. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"We need to maintain the integrity of those background checks that they do under those circumstances. So for me, I don't want to put our Winnipeg Police Service in a situation where they are called to defend themselves and they're not able to, because the information that they would have to provide is confidential." 

The motion being put forward by Chambers will ask to give the public service 90 days to review which jurisdictions conduct security checks for appointees to police boards, which agency performs them, what is investigated and what their intended purposes are.

A review such as this was last done in 2013 by the Manitoba Police Commission, said Chambers. Since then, Winnipeg has grown and become more diverse, so the study being asked for will provide an opportunity to update and improve current policing practices here.

"We're in 2020. We're dealing with things that we've never dealt with before... We're dealing with a wide diversity of cultures in our community and neighbourhoods, and policing has to evolve to manage the needs of our growing diverse communities," said Chambers. 

If approved, the study will look at police forces governed by a civilian oversight body in other Canadian cities that are of comparable size to Winnipeg, he said.

It will also look at the measures or undertakings that allow people to be appointed to their respective boards.

The study will also look at the intended purposes of background checks conducted in other jurisdictions, according to the motion.

Chambers said that is because certain parts of the legislation in Manitoba can be "a little ambiguous," citing a section of legislation that says a security check should ensure the appointee is of good character.

"How far does that reach? I mean, in the context of self, yeah, be of good character. But how does that relate to if it's an acquaintance, or an extended family member?" said Chambers.

That sort of relationship may have impacted Santos, the councillor for Point Douglas, who resigned from her appointment to the Winnipeg police board last week after failing a security check.

Santos, who is also the acting deputy mayor, said she was surprised she did not pass the security check, and the Winnipeg Police Service refused her request to review her personal information to learn more about why she failed it.

Coun. Vivian Santos is considering rescinding her resignation because the WPS "acted arbitrarily" and denied her "procedural fairness." (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Santos confirmed to CBC last March that she and her husband were "very good friends" with a man accused of drug trafficking.

She said she had been contacted by Winnipeg police officers around that time, asking 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.

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

The day after she announced her resignation, Santos said she was reconsidering, because she believes the Winnipeg Police Service "acted arbitrarily" and denied her "procedural fairness."

CBC News attempted to contact Santos for comment regarding Chambers' motion, but has not heard back.

Chambers commended the professionalism of the WPS for how it has handled the blowback from Santos' failed security check. He also stressed that the motion being put forward is not meant to undermine the organization's work, but to educate about the appointing processes.

About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC News. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. Prior to joining the CBC, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email him at nick.frew@cbc.ca

With files from Holly Caruk, Sean Kavanagh and Aidan Geary

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