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B.C. police complaint commissioner investigating sexual misconduct allegations against Vancouver police sergeant

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A veteran sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department is under investigation by the B.C. police complaint commissioner following allegations of sexual misconduct from seven women, including female police officers and former students of his criminal justice courses.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner will hold a public hearing into the conduct of Sgt. Keiron McConnell, who has served as an officer for more than 33 years, including 18 years as a Vancouver police sergeant, the agency said in a statement Wednesday.

McConnell has also worked as an instructor at "numerous higher educational institutions," as well as the Justice Institute of B.C., where he has taught courses in policing and criminal justice, the statement said.

The allegations against McConnell first came to light in December 2021, when a photo of the sergeant with two senior VPD officers was posted on social media. The police oversight body says the photo drew comments calling McConnell a "sexual predator" with a "history of sexually assaulting his students" at Royal Roads University.

The following month, a Vancouver police colleague of McConnell's went to the department's professional standards section with a series of Facebook messages she had exchanged with the sergeant, which she felt were sexually inappropriate, according to the commissioner's notice about the public hearing.

"(The officer) felt she could not report Sgt. McConnell's conduct due to his rank and status within the VPD and believed there would be consequences for her at the VPD if she did," the statement says.

In April 2022, the police complaint commissioner ordered the Vancouver Police Department's professional standards section to investigate the sergeant. During the investigation, the OPCC received information that McConnell had sent inappropriate messages to three female students at Royal Roads University between 2015 and 2017, the statement says.

One student alleged McConnell invited her and other students out for drinks in 2016, during which she became "increasingly uncomfortable" with his behaviour towards her, according to the statement. When she left in a taxi cab, McConnell "unexpectedly and without invitation boarded the taxi she was occupying," the OPCC says.

When she arrived at her destination, the student alleges that McConnell prevented her from exiting the car and tried to kiss her before she escaped and ran to a friend's house.

The second student alleged she received an inappropriate text message from the instructor while taking his course from September 2015 to January 2016.

"She did not know how he obtained her number," the OPCC's notice says. "Sgt. McConnell continued to send (her) text messages to her personal cellphone, as well as emails to her from his personal email account."

The third student alleged that, in 2017, she received a series of Facebook messages from McConnell that included sexual innuendo. "As she aspired to become a police officer, she was concerned that Sgt. McConnell may speak negatively about her to recruiting personnel if she did not respond to his messages," according to the OPCC notice. The student "ultimately changed her mind about becoming a police officer, which she attributed to her experience with Sgt. McConnell."

McConnell is also alleged to have sent sexually inappropriate messages to a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2017 and 2018. That student also told the OPCC the messages upset her "because Sgt. McConnell was well connected in the policing environment, and she did not want to offend him and jeopardize her academic status or a future career as a police officer."

The student alleges the messages continued after her graduation, which she "interpreted as him seeking a sexual act from her," according to the notice.

KPU confirmed Wednesday that McConnell remains an instructor at the university, but declined to comment directly on the allegations.

"Kwantlen Polytechnic University is committed to maintaining a safe and respectful learning and working environment for members of its community," the university said in a statement. "KPU expects employees to follow its code of conduct and policies, including its sexual misconduct policy. The university follows its related procedures in the event an allegation is made of an employee breaching its code of conduct or policies." 

'A critical issue in society'

Two other police officers would allege McConnell behaved inappropriately towards them, including one subordinate officer who said he would send her messages on social media at night, which included "fantasies about her engaging in sexual acts with him at his desk."

The officer said she did not confront the sergeant about his behaviour "as he was in a senior position, and she worried that if she said anything there would be negative career implications," the OPCC said.

The police commissioner says McConnell admitted to sending some of the messages at the centre of the investigation, but argued that the communications were private and were exchanged between consenting adults.

"McConnell maintained that, had the recipients of these communications told him to cease, he would have done so," the OPCC says, adding McConnell generally denies he engaged in discreditable conduct with the women.

The Vancouver police submitted its final investigation report into the conduct in April, recommending the allegations of discreditable conduct from five of the seven women were substantiated, the OPCC says.

Later that month, an OPCC discipline authority found the allegations of six of the seven women were substantiated, finding McConnell's communications with one of the students crossed student-teacher boundaries but did not constitute harassment or bullying, the OPCC said.

"The discipline authority further noted that RRU did not have any policies in place at the time governing student-faculty relationships," the agency says.

The date of the public hearing has yet to be determined and the allegations against McConnell have not been proven.

"The police complaint commissioner determined that the nature of the alleged misconduct supported the need for a public hearing," the agency said in its statement.

"In considering the public interest, the commissioner noted that addressing sexualized behaviour in work and educational settings is a critical issue in society and the implicit or explicit use of a power imbalance for a sexual purpose not only harms those directly affected but also negatively impacts the integrity of, and the public's confidence in, policing in B.C."

The office has appointed retired provincial court judge Carol Baird Ellan to preside as adjudicator in the proceedings and determine whether McConnell committed misconduct.

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