Public hearing for VPD sergeant accused of sexual misconduct

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) has called its first-ever public hearing into allegations of sexualized misconduct against a Vancouver police officer who has also been an instructor at post-secondary institutions.

The office says the allegations against Sgt. Keiron McConnell relate to his conduct toward seven women, including police officers and former students when he was an instructor at Royal Roads and Kwantlen Polytechnic universities.

It says in a statement the commissioner determined that the nature of the allegations merit the office’s first public hearing following legislative changes that cleared the path for such an inquiry earlier in the police discipline process.

The OPCC says the commissioner noted that using a power imbalance for a sexual purpose not only harms those directly affected but also negatively impacts the integrity of policing and the public’s confidence in police.

It says the allegations against McConnell, a Vancouver police officer for 33 years, have not been proven. McConnell declined to comment when contacted by CBC News.

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

The hearing dates have yet to be confirmed, but the OPCC says it will convene at the earliest possible date, and dates will be posted on its website.

It says this is the first public hearing it’s arranged since legislative changes that permit its office to arrange a public hearing earlier in the police discipline process.

Investigation ordered in April 2022

A notice of hearing detailing the allegations says the probe was launched after a photo of McConnell was posted on social media in late December 2021. 

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The notice says “unknown persons” commented on the post that McConnell was a “sexual predator,” and the following month, a female officer handed Facebook messages from McConnell over to the VPD professional standards section. 

The officer said the 2018 messages started “as friendly but progressed to what she felt were inappropriate and sexual,” the notice says. 

It says she didn’t report it at the time because of McConnell’s “rank and status,” and she believed there would be consequences for her at the VPD. 

Keiron McConnell is seen while he was on duty as a VPD officer on Granville Street. (CBC)

The commissioner ordered an investigation in April 2022 and heard from three former students of McConnell’s at Royal Roads University. They alleged he sent inappropriate or sexual electronic messages to them while enrolled in his courses between 2015 and 2017.

One said McConnell invited students out for drinks in November 2016, but she “became increasingly uncomfortable” with how he acted around her, the notice says. 

She said that after she decided to leave, McConnell followed her into a taxi uninvited and tried to kiss her after blocking her from getting out of the vehicle, the notice says. 

Another student alleges she became uncomfortable after receiving text messages from him on her personal cellphone and didn’t know how he got her number. 

An up-close picture of a Vancouver Police Department shoulder badge.
The OPCC has called a public hearing into allegations of sexualized misconduct involving Keiron McConnell. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A third student alleged that McConnell sent her Facebook messages in 2018 that “included euphemisms for sexual terms.”

That student worried that McConnell would “speak negatively” about her to police recruiters unless she responded to his messages, and she “ultimately changed her mind about becoming a police officer, which she attributed to her experience with Sgt. McConnell,” the notice says. 

The commissioner’s office also heard from a student from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, who alleged that McConnell sent her “sexually inappropriate messages” in 2017 and 2018. 

After she graduated, the woman alleged McConnell sent her a message “that she interpreted as him seeking a sexual act from her,” the notice says. 

A close up picture of two Vancouver Police officers with jackets and walkie-talkies on their chests.
An OPCC notice says that McConnell made comments that were sexual in nature to female VPD officers. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The notice says the office also heard from two subordinate female police officers who worked with McConnell.

One alleged he had made “sexualized comments” both in person and in text messages between 2015 and 2018.

The other claimed he “made repeated sexualized and inappropriate comments to her” in late-night social media messages that included “fantasies about her engaging in sexual acts with him at his desk.” 

The notice says McConnell admitted during the investigation to sending some messages, but he said they were intended to be 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 notice says, adding that he denied engaging in discreditable conduct.

In an email to CBC News, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) spokesperson David Connop Price confirmed McConnell is an instructor at the university.

He said the school could not provide further information because of privacy legislation, adding that KPU is committed to maintaining a safe and respectful learning and working environment.

Royal Roads University did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from CBC News.

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