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New police policy aims to shield whistleblowers

Jan 22 2012

Three-and-a-half years after the scandal that brought down former Victoria police chief Paul Battershill, the department has introduced a new policy it says will better protect whistleblowers.

However, the changes would not have prevented the principal whistleblower in the Battershill case,

sergeant Jim Simpson — whose information led to the chief's embarrassing and highly public resignation — from being investigated under the Police Act for leaking confidential information.

The policy change "allows for reports to be made directly to a member of the police board where a deputy chief or chief constable is accused of engaging in harassing behaviour," Sgt. Colin Watson, head of executive services, wrote in a report to the police board last week.

That "will ensure that any employee of the department is protected from any form of harassment originating from any level of the department."

Embattled former chief Battershill was removed from office after senior police inspectors went to a board member in October 2007 with concerns about his leadership style and his affair with a police board lawyer.

Battershill resigned in August 2008.

Simpson allegedly leaked a letter detailing the concerns to A Channel. He was suspended without pay in November 2008 while he was investigated for improper disclosure of classified information under the Police Act. Simpson retired from the force in January 2010, avoiding any discipline.

The events fractured the department and severely affected morale.

It is unclear why the new whistleblower section, which amounted to adding a few lines in the department's existing harassment policy, took so long. The idea was first raised at a board meeting in December 2008, with no mention of Battershill.

Mayor Dean Fortin was the only member who mentioned the Battershill resignation when the policy was discussed at the first board meeting of 2012.

"Obviously, we had the Battershill incident and we want to make sure we've learned from this experience as a board," he said.

According to the whistleblower advocacy group FAIR — Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform — organizations should have clear guidelines that protect people who expose unethical or illegal practices from punishment or reprisals.

Fortin said if police officers know their concerns will be taken seriously by the police board, they will not have to go to the media and, therefore, will not be breaching confidentiality rules.

"To a certain extent, they have the protection of bringing it to the top level, that it's not going to be buried or shunted aside," Fortin said.

"What this does is it gives you a venue to have that complaint dealt with without worry of offending or breaking any of those principles enshrined within the Police Act."

Simpson declined to comment and has never said whether he considers himself a whistleblower.

The police board was pushed to better protect whistleblowers after a letter in December 2008 from the Canadian Association of Police Boards asked which boards had such a policy. Only one did and the letter spurred other Canadian police boards to develop clear-cut rules.

Canadian whistleblower protection policy is considered poor compared with the United States and Britain.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— with files from Rob Shaw

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