Sarnia cop demoted for off-duty incident at Blue Water Bridge

Sarnia cop demoted for off duty incident at Blue Water Bridge

A Sarnia police officer was penalized further Wednesday for an off-duty incident last year at the Blue Water Bridge.

A Sarnia police officer was penalized further Wednesday for an off-duty incident last year at the Blue Water Bridge.

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Sean Van Vlymen, a 46-year-old constable, initially was charged March 31 by the OPP with impaired driving, but that charge was dropped in July after he pleaded guilty to careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act. Van Vlymen, who also has been charged by Ontario’s police watchdog in a separate case, avoided a criminal record, but was hit with a hefty fine and driving limitations.

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During a Police Services Act discipline hearing Wednesday, Van Vlymen was punished again. He was demoted from first- to second-class constable for nine months. The demotion, which includes a pay cut of nearly $21,000, came after the 13-year veteran pleaded guilty to two counts of misconduct linked to the incident at the bridge and the ensuing court case.

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Alex Sinclair, the prosecutor during Wednesday’s hearing, called it a serious matter and pointed out the public holds police officers in a position of high trust, which is eroded when officers engage in illegal conduct.

“Const. Van Vlymen’s misconduct damaged the reputation of the Sarnia Police Service in the eyes of the public,” he said, noting the incident was investigated by Canada Border Services Agency and OPP officers and led to a public court case.

The judge who sentenced Van Vlymen last summer also lectured him for his off-duty behavior.

“It goes without saying that Mr. Van Vlymen ought to have known better,” Justice Mark Poland said at the time. “Mr. Van Vlymen, throughout his time as a police officer, has undoubtedly, undoubtedly seen the trail of devastation that taking to the roadway with alcohol in one’s system can result in.”

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The twin spans of the Blue Water Bridge connect Sarnia’s neighbor, Point Edward, on the Ontario side of the St. Clair River with Port Huron in Michigan. (Paul Morden/The Observer)

The court heard border officers called Lambton OPP that Friday morning around 3:30 am about a man they were holding in custody after he failed a roadside breath test while returning from the US Van Vlymen was taken to headquarters in Petrolia, where breath tests showed he had between 104 and 119 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, over the legal limit of 80 milligrams.

Van Vlymen’s penalties for careless driving included a $2,000 fine and a one-year Provincial Offenses Act probation order that has several rules related to driving, a sentence lawyers on both sides suggested at the time. Assistant Crown attorney Nick Bazylko, brought in from the Chatham-Kent office to prosecute the case to avoid a conflict of interest for the Sarnia-Lambton office, said they came up with the plea deal following several conversations with Van Vlymen’s criminal defense lawyer, Lucas O’Hara.

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“It’s not uncommon to see a matter of this nature resolved by way of a plea under the Highway Traffic Act,” Poland said later.

O’Hara pointed out the breath-test readings were on the lower end, and Bazylko agreed.

“But still, this wasn’t simply a sip of alcohol,” the prosecutor said. “He should have known better.”

Poland also pointed out it was aggravating the incident took place at an international border that’s busy even during the early-morning hours.

Van Vlymen apologized at the time for his actions.

“I made a very bad judgment call and I sincerely apologize,” he said.

Sania police
Sarnia police headquarters is shown here. Photo by File photo /The Observer

Van Vlymen declined a chance to speak during Wednesday’s hearing. Miro Soucek, president of the Sarnia Police Association, briefly spoke on Van Vlymen’s behalf, saying he misunderstood the Police Services Act hearing process, which led to the nearly seven-month delay between the court case being settled and Wednesday’s internal discipline.

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“It was regrettable, but he also apologizes for that because he just misunderstood the process,” he said.

This isn’t Van Vlymen’s first demotion. In August 2016, he was demoted from first- to second-class constable for six months after pleading guilty to three counts of misconduct in a hearing through the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, a civilian oversight agency that investigates public complaints about police.

Van Vlymen is on paid suspension pending another Police Services Act investigation, Sarnia police said Wednesday. They previously said in a statement last year he’d been assigned to non-operational duties while Chief Derek Davis directed the internal investigation, but they later said, on the heels of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) charge, Van Vlymen was not assigned to operational duties pending the outcome of that case.

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“As human beings, officers will make mistakes, and in rare circumstances make decisions that result in court or PSA action being necessary. In all circumstances, we are accountable for our actions and any appropriate disciplinary action that may be necessary,” Davis said Wednesday in a statement. “It is also important to remember all the other civilian and sworn members of the Sarnia Police Service who continue to professionally serve the public every hour of every day, often in difficult and challenging circumstances.”

The SIU case, based on an allegation 35-year-old Sarnia resident Scott MacPherson suffered a serious injury while being arrested during a trespassing call at St. Paul’s Church on Devine Street on Oct. 23, 2022, is still before the courts. It’ll be addressed again later this month.

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Van Vlymen was the fifth Sarnia police officer to face criminal charges since August 2020, but only one has been convicted.

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Van Vlymen was the fifth Sarnia police officer to face criminal charges since August 2020, but only one, former constable Christopher Noordam, has been convicted.

  • July 6: Van Vlymen charged by SIU with assault causing bodily harm.
  • April 21: Const. Chris Beauchamp charged with assault following an alleged off-duty incident. The case is still before the courts.
  • March 31: Van Vlymen charged with impaired driving by Lambton OPP. He was later cleared following a Highway Traffic Act conviction.
  • November 2022: Noordam voluntarily resigned after being convicted of breach of trust for inappropriately – and repeatedly – ​​touching a parolee he was supervising during meetings in a private room at Sarnia police headquarters.
  • June 2021: A Sarnia police officer previously charged with breaking and entering to commit mischief had the charge tossed out.
  • October 2021: A Sarnia police officer was cleared of forgery and attempted fraud.

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