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Police complaint hearing called for B.C. officer accused of sexual misconduct

1st hearing arranged by the commissioner since changes allowing for a hearing earlier in the process
Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters in Vancouver, on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. A 32-year-old man is dead after an overnight stabbing in East Vancouver Wednesday (June 5). THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A public hearing has been called into the allegations of sexual misconduct by a Vancouver police officer – the first hearing arranged by B.C.'s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner since legislation changes allowing for a hearing earlier in the discipline process. 

Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Keiron McConnell is accused of sexual misconduct in relation to his interactions with seven women, including female police officers and former female students of his when he worked as an instructor at two post-secondary institutions. The complainants haven't been named. 

McConnell is a current member of the Vancouver police, with more than 33 years of police service, according to a 10-page notice of hearing from police complaint commissioner Prabhu Rajan. He has been a sergeant for about 18 years, working in a supervisory capacity in gang-related policing units. 

He has also worked at the Justice Institute of B.C., Royal Roads University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, teaching courses related to policing and criminal justice. 

Rajan called for the hearing Wednesday (June 19), but dates have not yet been scheduled. He appointed retired provincial court judge Carol Baird Ellan as an adjudicator. 

The commissioner first received information from Vancouver police into the conduct of McConnell in March 2022.

According to Vancouver police, a photo of McConnell with two senior VPD members was posted to social media around Dec. 30, 2021. Someone commented on the post alleging that McConnell was a "sexual predator" and had a "history of sexually assaulting his students" while employed as an instructor at Royal Roads University in Greater Victoria. 

In early January 2022, a female colleague of McConnell's became aware of the post and comments. She provided a series of Facebook messages she had exchanged with McConnell in 2018 to the Vancouver police's professional standards section. 

She alleged the Facebook messages from McConnell began as friends but "progressed to what she felt were inappropriate and sexual." The officer said she felt she could not report McConnell's conduct due to his rank and status within the Vancouver Police Department, believing there would be consequences for her if she did. 

On April 13, 2022, the commissioner issued an investigation into his conduct, assigning it to the Vancouver Police Department. During that investigation, the commissioner received additional information that McConnell has allegedly sent messages of inappropriate and sexual nature to three former students enrolled at his Royal Roads courses between 2017 and 2017.

One student alleged that in November 2016, McConnell invited her and other students out for drinks. While out, she became increasingly uncomfortable with McConnell's behaviour toward her and called a taxi to leave, but he entered the taxi with her "unexpectedly and without invitation."

The student also alleged he prevented her from leaving the taxi, trying to kiss her.

A second student alleged that during a class of McConnell's, between September 2015 and January 2016, she received a messaged from him on her personal cellphone. She didn't know how he got the number, but he allegedly continued to send her texts and emails, which made her feel uncomfortable. 

A third student alleged that in 2017 she received a series of Facebook messages from McConnell, which included "euphemisms for sexual terms." She planned to become a police officer, but was concerned McConnell might speak negatively about recruiting her if she didn't respond to his messages. She ultimately changed her mind about becoming an officer. 

The commissioner then received additional information from a fourth student, who alleged McConnell sent her sexually inappropriate messages in 2017 and 2018 while she was his student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She reported the messages. She also alleged she received a sexually inappropriate message from McConnell after graduation that she interpreted as him seeking sexual act from her. 

The police complaint commissioner also received information that McConnell had allegedly been sexually inappropriate with two female subordinate officers, with one claiming he made sexualized comments about her in person and through text messages between 2015 and 2018.

The second officer said that between 2017 and 2019, McConnell made "repeated sexualized and inappropriate comments to her," specifically "fantasies about her engaging in sexual acts with him at his desk." 

McConnell admitted to sending some of the messages, but said the "communications were intended to be private and were exchanged between consenting adults."

He said that if the women has told him to stop, "he would have done so." He disputed the first student's version of events "in certain respects and, in general, denied that he had engaged in discreditable conduct" alleged by the seven women. 

On Nov. 7, 2023, the discipline authority issued a direction for further investigative steps and that each woman be asked if they wished to file a registered complaint with the police complaint commissioner. An officer and a student registered complaints.

The Vancouver police professional standards section submitted its final investigation report to the discipline authority on April 8. It recommended that allegations from five of the seven women be substantiated. The authority determined that the allegations of six of the seven women appeared to be substantiated, with only the second student's allegations not involving discreditable conduct. 

Commissioner Rajan determined a public hearing was necessary, including that sexual harassment is both a human rights and workplace safety issue, especially where there is a power imbalance. 

Rajan said courts have repeatedly confirmed that police officers are held to a higher standard of conduct, adding McConnell was in a position of trust, influence and authority.

The claims are alleged to have happened over the course of five years and Rajan said, if proven, "suggest an ongoing pattern of unwanted and inappropriate sexualized behaviour towards female officers, and his students and former students."

The allegations against McConnell have not been proven. The hearing will determine whether he committed misconduct, the appropriate disciplinary action or corrective measures and to make recommendations. 

It's the first hearing arranged by the police complaint commissioner since the B.C. tabled legislation in April, allowing for the commissioner to call a public hearing earlier in misconduct investigations.

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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