Alberta Politics
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips as Alberta NDP environment minister in 2015 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

ASIRT won’t do to investigate Lethbridge Police spying on NDP MLA; a judicial inquiry is required

Posted on March 09, 2021, 1:27 am
8 mins

ASIRT may be an OK place to start the investigation into the concerted effort by the Lethbridge Police Service to spy on Shannon Phillips, a local woman who just happened to be the environment minister in the NDP Government that led Alberta from 2015 to 2019.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is the investigative body that proves time and again Alberta’s police are well trained, completely professional, and almost never shoot at anyone who doesn’t need shooting at. Either that, or maybe they come to police misconduct already inclined to find that sworn police officers did nothing wrong. 

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Whatever, ASIRT’s conclusions are unlikely to be very reassuring or persuade many people something isn’t deeply wrong inside the Lethbridge police department that extends far beyond a few “bad apples” in the shocking circumstances uncovered by Ms. Phillips’ and her staff and made public to a national audience Sunday evening by the CBC.

No, to get to the bottom of whatever was happening in the southern Alberta city of 93,000 over the past four years will require an independent inquiry run by a judge. 

Unfortunately, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu’s expressions of outrage notwithstanding, that’s about as likely to happen in a province run by Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party as the “Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns” led by a Calgary accountant and UCP supporter is to produce a fair and unbiased report.

After all, if this is how independent police forces in Alberta operate, it’s not going to help Premier Kenney’s campaign to get rid of the RCMP, which will have been investigating voting irregularities in the UCP’s 2017 leadership race for two years next Monday, and replace it with his own loyal provincial police force. 

Sunday’s CBC story outlines how, among other things, sworn Lethbridge police officers took surreptitious photographs of Ms. Phillips at a restaurant meeting with a well-known environmentalist and posted them anonymously on the Internet. 

More serious than this kind of Keystone Koppery, however, was the apparent fishing expedition “without investigative purposes” by LPS members that included illegal searches of government databases to see if they could turn up any embarrassing gossip about the Lethbridge-West MLA or people she was meeting.

This has the distinct feeling of a political campaign by the police against their local MLA. 

Were they just doing it for fun, or because they were part of the frequently violent and destructive off-road-vehicle crowd that infests Alberta’s woodlands? That group was furious at times during the NDP’s years in power for its plans to restrict off-roading in parks. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Two officers said to be associated with that bunch were investigated by a neighbouring municipal police department and received demotions, a gentle tap on the wrist. Last month, the Law Enforcement Review Board called the investigation “tainted, flawed and grossly inadequate” and gave Ms. Phillips the right to appeal. You can depend on it, she will. 

Or were officers working for someone outside the small police force? Did they have political connections in Lethbridge? Did they have the tacit approval of senior officers on the force? And who else gets subjected to the same treatment by Lethbridge police? 

These questions and many more like them need to be asked in a venue where answers can be compelled and be subject to meaningful penalties if they are not truthful. That doesn’t sound like ASIRT. 

None of this would have come to light had Ms. Phillips herself not been a tough fighter who has the knowhow to push back effectively. She filed Freedom of Information requests seeking LPS documents with her name on them. The result was more than 9,000 pages of mostly redacted documents, but with enough in them to give a hint of what the force was up to. 

This kind of behaviour directly threatens our democracy, and Albertans deserve answers they can trust. 

The people of Lethbridge, a city with a strong progressive tradition in the middle of a deeply conservative rural region, deserve to know their police are not using their powers to campaign politically against their elected representatives. 

Kenney caves to Conservative caucus COVID skeptics 

Yesterday morning we noted here that Premier Jason Kenney was facing an open revolt by MLAs who favour responding to COVID-19 restrictions on trade and social activities with a complete Texas-style opening. 

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Yesterday afternoon Health Minister Tyler Shandro got up at a virtual news conference and announced Alberta would be hurrying immediately into the next stage of its reopening schedule. 

Coincidence? Probably not. 

“I want to reassure all Albertans that this is a careful step,” Mr. Shandro told the journalists on the line. “It’s a cautious step.” 

It is genuinely ironic that almost no one is going to believe that, neither the 80 per cent of Albertans polls show generally support meaningful efforts to control the pandemic or the 20 per cent of COVID-deniers that actually frighten Mr. Kenney. 

Nor is that the only irony in this situation. We are quite close now to being able to safely reopen thanks to the supplies of COVID-19 vaccines that despite Premier Kenney’s efforts to cast doubt on the federal government’s efforts are now flowing into the province. 

But if a few more needless COVID deaths are what it takes to keep Mr. Kenney’s disunited Conservative party from coming apart at the seams, I guess we’ll have to put up with them. 

So if you’re part of the 80 per cent, you’re going to need to stay out of local restaurants for a few more weeks until you’ve had your jabs and they’ve had long enough to take effect. 

This story has been updated to clarify that it was Shannon Phillips who filed the original Freedom of Information requests, with the support of her staff.

12 Comments to: ASIRT won’t do to investigate Lethbridge Police spying on NDP MLA; a judicial inquiry is required

  1. Anonymous

    March 9th, 2021

    It’s a pretty frightening matter when we are supposed to trust the police, and they do things like this to people. Our democracy seems pretty questionable, when elected officials get this kind of treatment. Was this matter involving Shannon Phillips and the police politically motivated? Most likely, that appears to be the case. Because it’s Alberta, where it’s the Conservatives who are the favourite political party above anything else, and no matter how many mistakes they can make, this matter will likely be swept under the carpet. There will still be Albertans, who in their loyal allegiance to all things Conservative blue, will think Shannon Phillips is just making things up, and will want this dismissed. The UCP will not deal with this properly. It’s unlikely they will deal with this properly. This is unacceptable. Albertans deserve better. The UCP doesn’t care.

    Reply
  2. Dave

    March 9th, 2021

    Years ago there was a bungled burglary in a Washington DC complex. It seemed a bit odd, but no one really thought that much of it initially and then it all began to slowly unravel and more serious investigations began.

    Now, in Lethbridge we have some odd events and it seems to be becoming a bigger thing. I don’t know where things will go from here, but it should not just be swept under the carpet. An independent inquiry run by a judge would be a good way to ensure that does not happen or even appear to happen.

    There are a lot of questions and speculation now. We deserve answers, not a cover up or an investigation by any body that might be more comfortable with not revealing things. After the imitation one by Mr. Allen, isn’t Alberta about due for a real public inquiry?

    I suppose whatever cozy relationships between the local police and politics that exist in Lethbridge are also a good reminder of the potential pitfalls of a provincial police force. Certainly a government whose own electoral shenanigans are still being investigated by the RCMP shouldn’t be granted the power to get rid of the RCMP.

    Reply
  3. Bob Raynard

    March 9th, 2021

    When the province first introduced their re-opening plan, they emphasised that part of that plan would be to wait 3 weeks between stages, so they could see the effect of one reopening on case numbers and hospitalizations on one re-opening before proceeding with the next one. It made sense – what happened to it, other than agitation by the base?

    Reply
  4. tom in Ontario

    March 9th, 2021

    Lethbridge must be a tranquil place, a town where shameless men in blue have lots of free time to spy on a female cabinet minister. Excellent reporting by the CBC topped up by the blogger.

    Reply
  5. Simon Renouf

    March 9th, 2021

    DC, good comments, and good questions: “Or were officers working for someone outside the small police force? Did they have political connections in Lethbridge? Did they have the tacit approval of senior officers on the force? And who else gets subjected to the same treatment by Lethbridge police?” Police data bases are legally restricted to bona fide police business. A good analogy is the provincial health database, Netcare. Police officers who use police data bases for improper purposes (e.g. to see if the guy their ex is dating has a criminal record) are routinely subject to disciplinary action, and health care workers who abuse Netcare can expect a suspension from their regulatory body. The various cases of police access to Ms Phillips’ personal information can be, and likely will be, investigated by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissoner, but there’s still plenty here, including your questions, that needs independent investigation.

    Reply
  6. Carlos

    March 9th, 2021

    What else can be said about this UCP group of Morons – it is harder to live with these people than with COVID
    We are all suffering from PTSD by now

    Reply
  7. ema

    March 9th, 2021

    The one thing I would add to your recap, David, is the inexcusable failure of LPS to advise Ms. Phillips that “someone” may have attempted to spike her drink in Lethbridge, in 2016. Who were the police protecting then?? Maybe one of their own rogue officers, or some of their OHV friends, angered with the planned changes to Castle parks??

    Lethbridge Police “Service” needs a total overhaul, with the immediate firing of several officers, as the rot obviously runs so deep there. The Boys in Blue need to be disbanded. Who can forget the shameful result of the 2020 “Storm trooper” incident, that was investigated by their neighbouring Medicine Hat brotherhood?

    Our Justice minister had better some up with a judicial investigation, instead of more than the usual. glossing over the misdeeds of officers. Will he also reimburse Ms. Phillips for her extensive legal fees too? To paraphrase what she said, these guys come armed with a badge and a gun. One only has to recall the tragedy of the British politician, Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016, aged 41 years, to know the threats these women in politics face can be all too real.

    Reply
  8. Pogo

    March 9th, 2021

    Being able to defend the flanks while attacking the centre? Walking while chewing gum? Un possible! Stripping proven pension management while knee capping opposition to strip mining? it’s his brand! Just wait. He’s going to do the wet dream Alberta Pension Plan, long before any rise in taxes. Open season, if you know the right hunting guides!

    Reply
  9. Abs

    March 9th, 2021

    Seems like as good a time as any to loosen Covid restrictions. I mean, with new variants taking hold, few people vaccinated, and many questions about how effective the vaccines (one of which has been suspended in South Africa) will be against the new variants , what could possibly go wrong? Oh, you mean the known outbreaks in B.C. in seniors’ facilities full of vaccinated people, and at least one more outbreak here in Alberta not yet known widely to the public, also in a facility full of (mostly) vaccinated people? Oh, that. Well, these vaccines are supposed to decrease the likelihood of severe disease and hospitalizations, not eliminate disease altogether. Also, please do not mention Brazil at all, ever.

    Reply
  10. Just Me

    March 9th, 2021

    Local police in the employ of UCP politicians? In Alberta?

    Oh. Say. It. Ain’t. So.

    Reply
  11. Kang

    March 9th, 2021

    Nothing much new or surprising here. Landowners who were taking part in regulatory hearings into a Conservative favoured electrical power line were spied on by the Regulator and the results were shared with the power line company. The result was a Judge investigated and confirmed the espionage. Oh, and Joe Anglin took the regulator to court, twice, and won both times. The Conservatives, in the tradition of racist South Africa, simply passed legislation undoing the court victories.

    Aside from one fall guy lawyer, the spying and lying regulators and their staff faced zero consequences. A new group of conservative stooges were appointed to a re-named regulatory board with the same lying staff and the line was approved.

    The only amazing thing about this is the NDP were surprised this is how things work in Alberta and did zip to change things when they had the power to do so. Nine thousands pages of spying notes on Ms. Phillips – the Stazi look lazy by comparison.

    Imagine what the Kenney filth are getting up to.

    Reply
  12. Bill Malcolm

    March 10th, 2021

    Some poor bloke name of Chief of Lethbridge Police Shahim Mehdizadeh, in office for only 6 months he says, is being grilled on CBC Newsnet by reporters as I write this. Says he had a meeting with the Justice Minister Madu, and basically seems to be saying the LPS has to review the evidence on the Philips case. Someone has a lot of reading to do, and he’s pleading for time. I guess they sat on their hands up to now and did nothing! Pretty calm guy, but has the usual line about a few people spoiling the record of all in the organization, etc. etc., perhaps, maybe. Pledged more training that the staff should already have had if he was honest, like what’s legal and what isn’t.. Heard it all before, I’m afraid. Even went so far as to say only God can judge people, he can’t. Unfortunately, he seems to be unaware we do have judges employed who aren’t god if charges are preferred, which appears unlikely. Because, the Chief seems to think punishment would only range from mild reprimand to discharge. So no jail time for the self-appointed spying Stazis even if all the evidence goes to show they did wrong and abrogated Philips rights. It’s a head shaker.

    Reply

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