Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth said having a third party conduct security checks for Winnipeg Police Board appointees is not as simple as it seems.
"As much as it sounds like it would be easy to bring in an outside agency to do a security check, the reality is that we are the police of this jurisdiction … all of those records, and that records management system, resides here," he said Friday.
Smyth’s comments follow criticism of the current security clearance process after Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) failed to pass a security check to become a police board member.
Santos and others have since questioned whether there’s a conflict of interest in having WPS officials conduct background checks on those nominated to the board that oversees their operations.
But while it may sound simple for the RCMP to conduct the checks instead, Smyth said that switch would still require Winnipeg Police involvement.
He said police and RCMP don’t routinely share data, due to security and privacy concerns.
While he normally doesn’t comment on security checks, Smyth said public comments from Santos led him to weigh in.
"Our secure operations unit that does these checks discovered information that was concerning. As a result of that, she didn’t pass the check," he said.
The chief said WPS isn’t the police board’s appointing authority but simply completes security checks that are passed on to the mayor and council.
"It’s up to them to determine what to do with that," said Smyth.
Santos has also been critical of a recent reported police leak to media. Global News reported that its sources linked the failed security clearance to the fact vehicles owned by Santos and her husband were lent to a man accused of trafficking cocaine. Another friend is also accused of drug offences.
Global reported its sources said the couple was placed under surveillance as part of a police investigation.
On Thursday, Santos expressed concern about the leak.
"I am disturbed that confidential information was released to the media and find this to be a violation of my family’s privacy. I am also considering legal options to clear my name and challenge the perceived conflicts of interest within the make-up of the Winnipeg Police Board," she said in a written statement. "The only truth is that my husband made a... mistake of lending out our vehicles to help a friend."
She did not grant a request for further comment on Friday.
Smyth did not directly answer questions about the reported leak to Global.
In her statement, Santos said she wasn’t aware of any improper behaviour by the friend her husband lent vehicles to at the time those favours occurred.
"The media reports regarding the two individuals have nothing to do with my work as a city councillor and are simply family friends we no longer have ties with. The only real connection I share with them is that we all come from the same community – the same community that has experienced systemic racism and disproportionately high involvement in the justice system," she wrote.
Santos wrote that as the daughter of an immigrant, she experienced "discrimination on a daily basis" while growing up.
-With files from Ryan Thorpe
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.