3 officers from VPD's Counter Exploitation Unit under investigation
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Police Department confirmed Thursday that three of the officers in its Counter Exploitation Unit – which handles matters related to prostitution, child exploitation and human trafficking – are currently under investigation by an "independent agency."
VPD spokesperson Sgt. Aaron Roed told CTV News the inquiry into the officers’ conduct dates back to the department’s investigation into former detective James Fisher, who was sentenced in 2018 to 20 months in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of breach of trust and one count of sexual exploitation.
Fisher admitted to kissing two young witnesses in pimping and sexual trafficking cases he was investigating.
“There were concerns about three officers in the [unit] related specifically to the Fisher investigation,” Roed told CTV News on Thursday. “We did refer that to an independent agency for investigation.”
Roed declined to answer questions about the investigating agency, when the matter was referred, or whether the officers in question are still on active duty, or even still with the VPD.
But Sonam Khangura with Vancouver Rape Relief, which has helped thousands of women escape violence and advocates on their behalf, said the public has a right to know.
“It’s alarming,” Khangura said. “It’s already hard enough for women to report; the fear of not being believed. But now they’ll have a fear that their case is being handled by officers they won’t be able to trust.”
When asked about concerns this may undermine public confidence in a unit that’s meant to help protect the most vulnerable, he responded, “Vancouver police will always provide safety for members of the community. This is why when information [arises] that we feel needs to be investigated, we will forward that to an independent investigator.”
On Wednesday, prominent Vancouver criminal lawyer Marilyn Sandford, who represents a human trafficker appealing his conviction, told a judge during a case management hearing in the B.C. Court of Appeal that she was aware four officers in the high-profile VPD unit, including Fisher, had been investigated, and that three were still under criminal investigation.
When reached by email on Thursday to elaborate, Sandford told CTV News, “I am restricted by undertakings that prevent me from providing those details other than in submissions or applications to the court.”
And B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which oversees municipal police misconduct investigations, wouldn’t say whether the officers in question are under a criminal investigation, a police misconduct investigation, or both.
“Due to confidentiality provisions we are unable to comment,” wrote Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Andrea Spindler.
In Victoria, B.C.’s Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said he was aware of the outside probe into three VPD officers, calling the allegations “very serious.”
“The investigation needs to work itself out, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that,” Farnworth said.