Councillor Vivian Santos’ link to alleged drug traffickers is conflict of interest: Ethicist

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg city councillor should have disclosed ties to alleged drug traffickers: ethicist'
Winnipeg city councillor should have disclosed ties to alleged drug traffickers: ethicist
A Winnipeg city councillor tendered her resignation to the police board she was appointed to after failing her police background check. Sources have told Global News it was due to her friendship with two people implicated in a cocaine trafficking bust, a fact one ethicist says raises huge conflict of interest problems. Global's Brittany Greenslade reports – Jul 21, 2020

A Manitoba ethics professor says Point Douglas Coun. Vivian Santos’ link to a police drug investigation is a conflict of interest for a police board member and acting deputy mayor.

“The deputy mayor is a different kind of role, just like the police board, so I think she needs to think very seriously whether she can continue to serve,” University of Manitoba professor Neil McArthur told Global News.

READ MORE: Winnipeg city councillor off police board because of previous link to drug investigation: sources

Santos was appointed unanimously by Winnipeg city council to the police board on June 26 but had to resign after she failed the mandated security clearance check.

“Elected officials have to be very careful,” McArthur said. “They are unfortunately not regular people. There is a higher standard because they represent the city.”

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“There’s the question of whether or not she should serve on the police board, which has to do with the possibility of a conflict of interest or a something that would bring disrepute to the police board or just the perception of that.”

Police sources told Global News last week that Santos failed her clearance because she and her husband were at one point under surveillance as part of a major police drug investigation earlier this year that led to the largest cocaine seizure in the city’s history.

Jay Santos, a “lifelong family friend” according to Coun. Santos, was charged with drug trafficking in connection to the investigation.

On Tuesday, Coun. Santos cancelled a press conference that she had scheduled and declined an interview with Global News.

READ MORE: 2 men charged in massive Winnipeg cocaine bust worth more than $1 million

The councillor was asked last week if her friendship with Jay Santos was enough to warrant her losing her position with the police board.

“Guilty by association? Is that warranted?” the councillor told reporters outside City Hall.

McArthur said it is, given the councillor’s roles at city hall.

Global News has learned the councillor and her husband have been linked to a second man, who police sources said has also been charged with drug trafficking in another province and was found to be driving cars registered to the councillor’s family.

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“She is friends with someone who is being investigated and has indicated that she has severed those ties, both her and husband,” Councillor and colleague Markus Chambers said in Santos’ support.

Police sources have told Global News that during the months-long investigation, officers pulled over a 2015 white Mercedes Benz registered to Jeffrey Santos, Vivian Santos’ husband. Neither he nor his wife were in the vehicle, but a man who is alleged to be a major player in the drug-trafficking ring was driving it.

Police sources said the vehicle was impounded for 30 days after the driver was found to be operating the car with a suspended licence.

In an emailed statement Monday, Vivian Santos admitted to Global News that she and her husband lent that same man a second vehicle.

Coun. Markus Chambers, who also heads the Winnipeg Police Board, said sometimes people get taken advantage of by friends or acquaintances but said there was a red flag Coun. Santos should have caught.

“Certainly the first vehicle was seized and for me, it would have been a red flag right then and there that ‘okay what is going on this is my personal property and we need to have a conversation,'” he said.

Regardless of the situation, Chambers said his colleague should have disclosed her friendships with two men accused of drug trafficking when she was elected to the board.

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“It would have been a different conversation and I’ve told her that,” Chambers said.

Chambers said people who are appointed to the board are told that it opens them up to a higher level of scrutiny.

“There is a police background check. Are you willing to put yourself forward and put your family forward because this has now become more of family issue as well,” he said.

Chambers also said Santos has his full backing as a councillor and acting deputy mayor for the work she does.

WATCH: City councillor off police board because of previous link to drug investigation: sources

Click to play video: 'City councillor off police board because of previous link to drug investigation: sources'
City councillor off police board because of previous link to drug investigation: sources

Councillor reactions

Santos’ City Hall colleagues were reluctant to discuss her personal life, however Charleswood councillor and former head of the police board Kevin Klein noted it’s imperative that members of the police board pass their security check.

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“When you consider the information that is shared to a police board member, you want to make sure there’s a lot of integrity and ability to have access to information that most people wouldn’t have access to,” Klein said.

Councillor Sherri Rollins suggested the process to appoint a member to the Police Board may need to be reviewed.

“It is critical that we move beyond any one councillor and any one particular interest,” Rollins said.

“The 2012 bylaw that established the Winnipeg Police Board hasn’t been substantially revisited by council. There are quite a few policy issues jumping off that point that has been considered by other jurisdictions that might be wise for council to look at.”

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg city councillors react to colleague failing police background check'
Winnipeg city councillors react to colleague failing police background check

“Elected members of Council are not subject to security checks to fulfill their duties of office including serving as Council liaisons, committee chairs, committee members, Deputy Mayor and Acting Deputy Mayor,” said Mayor Brian Bowman’s office in a statement.

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“Membership on the Winnipeg Police Board, however, requires a security check.

“Councillor Santos was appointed to … the Winnipeg Police Board by a unanimous vote at Council and any replacement would need to be nominated and voted on by Council.”

As of Tuesday evening, Councillor Vivian Santos had yet to confirm whether she will rescind her resignation from the police board.

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