By Herald on September 3, 2020.
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips is calling on the city’s new Chief of Police to support her appeal of a discipline decision made against two Lethbridge Police Service officers who have admitted to undertaking an unauthorized surveillance of her in 2017 when she was Alberta’s Minister of Environment.
In a July 9 hearing LPS officers Jason Carrier and Keon Woronuk admitted to using their positions as sworn officers of the law for personal and political reasons to try to overhear a private meeting between Phillips and conservation stakeholders at Chef Stella Diner in Lethbridge. The officers, both off-road enthusiasts, thought Phillips was discussing potential changes within the Castle area where off-road vehicles would have been restricted under a previous NDP government proposal, and acted to ascertain the content of the conversation by launching an unauthorized surveillance operation using police resources. (Phillips was actually discussing the potential release of bison into Banff National Park at the time when the unauthorized surveillance took place).
Woronuk later anonymously posted photos of the meeting on Facebook. Phillips launched a formal complaint with the Calgary Police Service when she became aware of the photos, and a subsequent police investigation led to the two officers. The CPS transferred the matter to the Medicine Hat Police Service for further evaluation which resulted in Police Act charges being laid. A disciplinary hearing was held on the matters which resulted in both officers being temporarily demoted for discreditable conduct.
Phillips was never directly informed of these proceedings and only learned about the actions of these officers and the results of the hearing when the first media reports regarding the incident surfaced in mid-July.
Phillips, who received rare, bipartisan, public support from both Premier Jason Kenney and then Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer on the issue, decided to appeal the disciplinary decision to the Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB), feeling the discipline administered was insufficient to the offence. She also demanded a special prosecutor be appointed and for a public inquiry to be held looking into these matters.
On Wednesday, Phillips urged the Police Service’s newly-appointed Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh to support her appeal and agree to a full public inquiry.
“The new chief committed to accountability for the force going forward, and I think that is good, and I hope he does turn the page on some of the more egregious things that have happened with the force in the past,” she said. “He has a unique opportunity to put his stamp on this Lethbridge police force in the first two weeks of leading it.”
Phillips went on to say she has filed an appeal with the Law Enforcement Review Board, and at that time she would be asking for the public inquiry once the appeal was launched..
“He has two opportunities,” she explained. “He can support my appeal and my standing as an appellant, and he can support the LERB’s invitation to have a full public inquiry. The Lethbridge Police Service has been called to respond to my appeal by Sept. 23. So they can take one of two positions: they can disagree with my position, that I have a standing to appeal the decision; and they can disagree with the concept of having a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened.
“So they can take that position or they can take the position I am going to take. (The Chief) has that choice, and the deadline for that is Sept. 23.”
Phillips said she has received broad support from across the country from people of all different political affiliations since the actions of these two officers were revealed publicly. She said an important principle is at stake when officers abuse their position of trust and authority because they happen to disagree with a political decision of the day.
“I don’t think this is a particularly partisan issue, and I have not treated it as such,” she said. “I have expressed my gratitude to (the Premier and Minister Schweitzer) both publicly and privately, and will continue to do so.”
“I think what this says is there needs to be change,” Phillips added. “There needs to be accountability. You cannot have this kind of conduct going unaddressed, and certainly it is a very serious matter. I think what the public can take away from the response across party lines is just the depth of the seriousness of trying to intimidate a duly-elected person, and a minister of the Crown no less, into taking specific political actions. That is very serious. And intimidating citizens from meeting with their MLA, from taking specific political views — you can’t have that.”
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