Alberta Politics
Lethbridge-West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips, who was environment minister in the Notley Government (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

What’s it tell us that a couple of bad-boy Lethbridge cops almost got away with illegal surveillance of an NDP minister?

Posted on July 15, 2020, 3:38 am
9 mins

It’s tempting to write off yesterday’s big story about that pair of none-too-bright county mounties from the Lethbridge Police Service caught stalking an NDP cabinet minister as just a dumb cop comedy without much significance.

But Sgt. Jason Carrier and Const. Keon Woronuk were no Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon, and when they were conducting their unauthorized investigation of Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips’ political activities back in 2017, no one in the Southern Alberta city’s PD seems to have thought to wonder, Car 54, where are you?”

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Anyway, officers Carrier and Woronuk left enough of Alberta’s political DNA at the scene of the crime to warrant a closer look at this case before the trail goes cold.

When they stumbled upon then-environment-minister Phillips meeting with someone they didn’t recognize in a Lethbridge diner in 2017, Sgt. Carrier and Const. Woronuk seem to have already been furious she was interfering with their God-given right to drive their personal ATVs wherever they pleased in the nearby Castle Region, where the NDP planned to create a park.

“Both officers were involved in the off-roading community, whose members were upset by NDP plans to restrict off-road vehicle use in the environmentally sensitive area,” said one news report, considerably understating the rabid fury of the off-road crowd at the thought the NDP might stop their fun tearing up streambeds and scaring the bejeesus out of hikers and wildlife.

The pair decided on the spot to take photos of Ms. Phillips and the person she was meeting, run their cars’ plates as if they were criminal suspects, and follow them.

That would have been the end of the matter had Const. Woronuk not decided to post his photos on social media, which led to a complaint from Ms. Phillips to the Calgary Police.

The Calgary cops soon uncovered the illegal plate search and passed the case to their colleagues in Medicine Hat, another Deep South Alberta city not far from Lethbridge, who decided to lay charges under the Police Service Regulation.

That, in turn, led to a discreet hearing in Medicine Hat last week that resulted in the pair being let off with a gentle tap on the wrist — in the form of temporary demotions of two years for Const. Woronuk and one year for Sgt. Carrier.

Edmonton Griesbach Conservative MP Kerry Diotte (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That too would likely have passed unnoticed had Alex McCuaig, a reporter for CHAT News in Medicine Hat, not happened by and noted the penalty decision. God bless him, he wrote a story.

That was the point at which the proverbial stuff started hitting the fan.

UCP Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer — who normally plays Bill Barr to Premier Jason Kenney’s Donald Trump in Alberta’s political drama — shocked everyone with a tweet assailing the hapless Southern Alberta plods.

“Tonight I was informed of two Lethbridge police officers who had been conducting an unauthorized surveillance of MLA Shannon Phillips in 2017,” he tweeted Monday. “I share in the outrage being expressed by many following this news,” he added, quickly making the point he knew nothing about the rogue investigation.

Soon Premier Kenney was chirping the same song. “This conduct is completely unacceptable,” he tweeted. “It’s deeply disturbing that police officers used their powers for private purposes in unauthorized surveillance of an elected official. I am appalled that MLA Phillips was subjected to this, & thank Min Schweitzer for taking swift action.”

Mr. Schweitzer said he has asked the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team — the province’s so-called police watchdog, which normally treats law enforcement misdeeds with kid gloves — to look into the matter.

Remember, Messrs. Schweitzer and Kenney are guys who want to replace the RCMP, which polices most Alberta communities, with a provincial police force that in all likelihood would be far more like the Lethbridge PD than real Mounties.

For her part, Ms. Phillips said the way citizens must deal with complaints about police misdeeds is flawed, and the problem with the Lethbridge department is not just a matter of a couple of bad apples. “There is an influential element within the rank and file that do not uphold their sacred duty to the public trust and to the honour of being a police officer and all of the responsibility that entails,” she told Mr. McCuaig.

The province’s response, while better than nothing, doesn’t go far enough, Ms. Phillips argued. Mr. Schweitzer needs to appoint a Crown prosecutor from outside the province to oversee the ASIRT investigation if anyone is to have any confidence in its outcome, she said.

“I do not believe a disciplinary action of a mere demotion is at all reasonable in these circumstances and that’s because what these officers have done is undermine public trust,” she told Lethbridge News Now.

Left unmentioned so far in this affair is the startling and continuous abuse endured by female politicians in Alberta by groups like the so-called “off-roading community” while the NDP was in power.

Did the political climate in Alberta at the time make Sgt. Carrier and Const. Woronuk feel justified in launching an unauthorized surveillance of a female NDP politician when they already felt they were above the law? It seems likely, notwithstanding the chirps of outrage now being emitted by politicians on the right who benefitted from such sentiments.

Unfortunately for the hapless heat from Lethbridge, Ms. Phillips is one of the toughest and outspoken members of the Alberta Legislature, not some poor kid dressed like a galactic stormtrooper.

“While these officers have indeed failed in their duties, that failure does not reflect the values and duty of the police service to the community,” Lethbridge Police Chief Scott Woods insisted, nevertheless.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened in Alberta.

Long before he became one of Canada’s most right-wing politicians, Edmonton Griesbach Member of Parliament Kerry Diotte was an Edmonton Sun reporter whose stories annoyed members of the Edmonton Police Service enough in 2004 to stake out a bar where he was meeting the reform-minded chair of the Edmonton Police Commission.

Mr. Diotte got a call on his cellphone from a Sun reporter who’d been monitoring the police scanner in the newsroom and figured out what was going on, and both men prudently left the bar by taxi. Mr. Diotte said later he’d planned all along to take a cab.

This ironically means Ms. Phillips, one of the hardest working political figures in the province, has something on common with Mr. Diotte, to whom the same description cannot be applied.

12 Comments to: What’s it tell us that a couple of bad-boy Lethbridge cops almost got away with illegal surveillance of an NDP minister?

  1. Prairie Observer

    July 15th, 2020

    Does the Alberta Leg Building have parking spots for ATVs? Those two boys in blue should be working for Alberta’s doctor stalker Minister of Health.

    Reply
  2. Abs

    July 15th, 2020

    And now those po-po have the UCP-granted power to access citizens’ health records. All kinds of trumped-up charges and excessive take-downs could ensue. Keep your cellphones charged and ready to roll at all times, for this seems to be the only protection we have from the police, who supposedly protect us, but not if we are lawfully going about our lives, doing our jobs in the light of day, or committing an egregious offence like eating brunch in a restaurant. Worth a reminder that you, too, could have offensive remarks and your photo posted on Facebook without permission if uniformed officers dine where you dine. No thanks.

    No wonder Schweitzer and Kenney are quaking in their boots. There but for the grace of God go they. Even provincial cabinet ministers and the premier himself are not exempt from illegal police interventions and surveillance by bottom feeders in the ranks.

    Should be interesting the first time they send in law enforcement to enforce the anti-protest law. The UCP created this monster, and now they’ll have to be held accountable for it.

    Reply
  3. July 15th, 2020

    In addition to demonstrating the flexible concepts of what is professionally acceptable by some members of Alberta police services, this incident further reveals the sense of entitlement of many of Alberta’s ATV users. Having spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to be able to burn more of Alberta’s most well-known natural resource wherever they darn well please, they are oblivious to the rights of the far larger segment of Albertans to enjoy peaceful communion with nature in our province’s beautiful backcountry. A recent survey from the Alberta Hiking Association of 727 hikers showed that more than 80% avoided trails used by ATVs, and another 14% would use those trails, but didn’t like it. By comparison, fewer than 19% avoided trails used by mountain bikers. In consultations, the current minister of parks seems to favour representation by off-highway vehicle groups over either non-motorized recreation groups and conservation groups. I guess that’s where the votes are for now.

    Reply
  4. Dave

    July 15th, 2020

    I think you are correct and this story has more significance than may appear at first glance. It is certainly not just about two police who have abused their power, although that is certainly a part of it. In recent months the world has been very focused on police behavior and unfortunately this is yet another instance of people given a great deal of power and abusing that trust and responsibility.

    When I read the first part of your post, I too thought what happened in Edmonton with Mr. Diotte several years ago. This should help serve as a reminder, if any is really needed, that this is not a problem confined to one jurisdiction, but a pervasive systemic issue. It is an issue facing local, Federal, and where applicable in Canada, also Provincial police forces. Unfortunately, I think abuse of power is often directed against those perceived as unable or less likely to stand up for themselves, including minorities, but Mr. Diotte’s case should remind us it really can affect anyone.

    I don’t know exactly what the solution is, but I agree what we are doing now is not working well enough. There is a general perception that the review and punishment mechanisms currently in place are not effective or strong enough. I think a stronger message needs to be sent because this sort of thing keeps on happening again and again and it is seriously starting to undermine the credibility of all police forces. I think this is something those in charge of those forces are starting to understand to some degree, but I am not sure if it has quite got through yet to those lower down who may be used to behaving with impunity.

    I think it is good that the Justice Minister seems to understand the problem here, or at least know to say the right things. I suppose that is a hopeful sign. However, the next step is effective action and that is probably much more important.

    Reply
  5. lungta

    July 15th, 2020

    “I do not believe a disciplinary action of a mere demotion is at all reasonable in these circumstances and that’s because what these officers have done is undermine public trust,”
    this had me chuckle
    what public trust?
    if you are naive enough to trust the police in Alberta
    you really haven’t been paying attention
    serve and protect
    is serve the rich and protect property

    Reply
  6. Scotty on Denman

    July 15th, 2020

    Was the errant policemen’s superior demoted too?

    Reply
  7. Murphy

    July 15th, 2020

    I was fortunate to be placed under surveillance by Calgary Police in 2009 after my partner was sued by the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre for speaking on the CBC’s fifth estate. Curiously, although the program aired in February of that year, the police didn’t begin to tail us until the lawsuit got going in July. It only seemed to last a few days, and was done in such an obvious fashion as to have had no purpose other than intimidation. I put in a request for information, with which CPS complied, and the surveillance did not appear in the documents, so I assume that it was unauthorized, but neverthless a very exhillarating experience! It doens’t get more fun than knowins that the apparatus of the state can be brought to bear against you at the behest of private interests!
    This case seems to have involved a similar dynamic in which the police officers were retained by a private detective:

    “In August 2014, Akele Taylor, who was involved in a child custody battle, came forward to police with concerns her ex-common law husband –business partner Ken Carter — had hired a private investigator’s firm to follow her.

    The owner of the private investigator’s firm is a retired officer, Stephen Walton, who served from 1978 to 2003. Investigators said he hired three active members to follow Taylor’s activities.

    Officers Bryan Morton (35), Bradford McNish (61) and Anthony Braile (50) were found guilty of multiple charges following a trial in April 2018.”
    https://globalnews.ca/news/5077747/calgary-officers-sentenced-to-jail-prison-harassment/

    The police should be shut down, with the exception of a corps of career investigators with masters degrees, and replaced with a citizen force in which all people are obligated to serve for one year, various deferrments notwithstanding.

    Reply
  8. Just Me

    July 15th, 2020

    Being compared to Kerry Diotte under any circumstances is cause for concern and an immediate intervention by your loved ones and a professional therapist.

    Needless to say, the police using their excessive latitude to do whatever b.s. they want is commonplace. I recall a time where one or two people who were seeking recruitment by the police were looking forward to “getting back” at certain individuals. And I know of one person who would hire cops to “take care” of problems for him. As we are all beginning to realize, bad behaviour among police officers is a thing.

    Of course, while the UCP could sympathize with what these cops were doing to Shannon Phillips, they sure as hell want to make it clear that they don’t want the cops to blow a good thing; so, their full-throated denunciation of police bad behaviour was necessary. There will come a time when someone in the UCP will need a cop to do their dirty work.

    Reply
  9. Jim

    July 15th, 2020

    The problem with just a slap on the wrist is it will continue, a higher standard should be applied to law enforcement officers. Makes you wonder how many times they broke the law looking up others. Then again the function of the police is to protect the wealthy and connected and collect fees from everyone else. Perhaps these 2 should be sent to rural Alberta as part of Kenney’s rural crime program. You want more cops well we have a couple of outdoor enthusiasts for you, hopefully they don’t get shot at trespassing on some farmers land in their ATVs.

    Reply
  10. David Schulze

    July 17th, 2020

    This is a fine old Alberta tradition. In 1982, Edmonton police questioned a man and a woman sitting talking in a white executive-model Chrysler parked outside a seedy hotel. The police left the scene after the man identified himself as Graham Harle, the province’s Solicitor General. Five days later an anonymous caller told the Edmonton Journal about the “routine check” and Harle resigned. As a friend of mine who worked at the Attorney General’s office ask me at the time: Who do you suppose called the press and do you suppose it has anything to do with disagreements between police officers and the Solicitor General? https://archive.macleans.ca/article/1983/11/28/albertas-scandal-over-a-prostitute

    Reply
  11. Keith McClary

    July 20th, 2020

    Susan on the Soapbox writes:
    “Every single one of ASIRT’s 22 investigators, as of 2018, were current or former cops.

    ASIRT cops and former cops will be investigating a case previously investigated by the Medicine Hat Police Service (and adjudicated by a retired Calgary Police Service cop) which was originally investigated by the Calgary Police Service.”

    https://susanonthesoapbox.com/2020/07/19/police-surveillance-of-ndp-cabinet-minister-shannon-phillips/

    Reply

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