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The makeup of the Winnipeg Police Board won’t be known for months, when its chairperson expects a new member will replace Coun. Vivian Santos.
The board’s membership triggered headlines recently, after Santos (Point Douglas) was denied a required Winnipeg Police Service security clearance.
Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), the board’s chairperson, said that disqualifies her from sitting on the board.
"What she has is a nomination to the police board but that does not make one a board member. They have to pass the background check," he said, adding he doesn’t expect a replacement will be selected before September.
He said Santos is not included in board emails and wouldn’t be included in any meetings before her replacement is named. The board’s next public meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11.
In a text message Friday, Santos said that because council unanimously voted to appoint her to the board before her security check, she believes she will remain a member until a new one is selected.
"My situation is different," she wrote, but could not be reached for further comment.
Global News has reported that the reason the security clearance was denied is linked to the councillor’s friend, who was accused of trafficking cocaine. Global reports that on two separate occasions, vehicles owned by Santos and her husband were lent to someone who was allegedly involved in the drug trade.
Global reported the couple was under surveillance at one point, as part of a police investigation.
Santos previously told the Free Press that her husband loaned the vehicles as a favour to a friend, with whom the couple has since cut ties. She said she and her husband didn’t know about any alleged illegal activity at the time.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Chambers said the failed security check shouldn’t affect Santos’s other council duties.
"The only concern it proposed was a vulnerability and a risk for her to sit at the table where sensitive information provided by the Winnipeg Police Service is shared," he said.
The Winnipeg Police Board is required to include one or two city councillors among its seven to nine members. Five to seven of the members are appointed by city council, while two are chosen by the provincial government.
The current confirmed members include Chambers, Mohamed El Tassi, Damon Johnston, Edna Nabess, Brian Scharfstein and Alicja Szarkiewicz.
Chambers said he’d like to see a city councillor fill the remaining spot.
He expects that person would be vetted before their nomination is announced publicly.
"Last time, we did it as a walk-on motion at council and that is where the process broke down," he said. "I will take responsibility for that, as the person who raised the motion."
Council also recently ordered a public service report on how to ensure background checks for the police board are neutral and transparent, which will explore best practices from other jurisdictions.
Santos and others have questioned whether there’s a conflict of interest in having WPS officials conduct background checks on those nominated to the board that oversees its operations.
The board will likely select a new member before that background check report is completed, said Chambers.
The chairperson said the current police board will have a quorum and can run smoothly, even if Santos’s seat isn’t filled in time for its September meeting.
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.
Updated on Friday, July 31, 2020 at 4:57 PM CDT: Adds details, more comments.
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