Council’s protection committee was urged Friday to give someone who undergoes a police background check the right to an appeal.
"Having an appeal process from that is really important and I’d say fundamental to an appropriate police check process," said Abby Deshman, director of the criminal justice program for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Background checks have triggered attention in recent months, after Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) was denied a required Winnipeg Police Service security clearance to become a member of the Winnipeg Police Board.
Deshman said an appeal option would help to ensure candidates who undergo screening can explain their past experiences, especially if they believe that history shouldn’t disqualify them from getting a security clearance.
She alleged current background checks tend to create barriers to those who live in lower-income areas, as well as members of racialized communities, whom she believes are more likely to interact with police.
Deshman argued that having the Winnipeg Police Service conduct background checks for the Winnipeg Police Board presents a conflict of interest that allows the service to "veto" members of the board created to oversee them.
On Friday, the protection committee voted to have city legal staff complete a best practices review of police board screening across Canada, which would include feedback on which agencies conduct the checks.
The motion requires council approval.
Santos said she would also like to see an appeal option added to the security clearance, though she noted that’s not proposed in the review.
"You never have the opportunity to defend yourself (in this process) ... Just to have that appeal process, I think, is important," she said.
The councillor said she’s not sure if she would have pursued such an option personally, since she hasn’t received an official explanation as to why she didn’t pass her security clearance.
Global News has reported the reason the security clearance was denied is linked to the councillor’s friend, who was accused of trafficking cocaine. On two occasions, Global reports that vehicles owned by Santos and her husband were lent to someone who was allegedly involved in the drug trade.
Santos said her husband loaned the vehicles to a friend, with whom the couple has since cut ties, and didn’t know about any alleged illegal activity at the time.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Mayor Brian Bowman said some form of security screening must occur for all Winnipeg Police Board members, who receive sensitive information from police.
"Absolutely, members of the Winnipeg Police Board should have to undergo a police background check, full stop," said Bowman.
The mayor said he is open to discussion on which agency conducts the screening.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.