Justice minister 'disappointed' in Lethbridge police action plan, orders significant changes

·4 min read
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, left, has ordered Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh re-draft an action plan which aims to shape up the service after several scandals in recent years. (Government of Alberta; Meghan Grant/CBC - image credit)
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, left, has ordered Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh re-draft an action plan which aims to shape up the service after several scandals in recent years. (Government of Alberta; Meghan Grant/CBC - image credit)

Alberta's justice minister says he is "disappointed" with the Lethbridge Police Service's action plan, aimed at shaping up the force after a number of recent scandals led to the provincial government threatening to dissolve the force.

CBC News has obtained copies of four letters sent from Justice Minister Kaycee Madu to Lethbridge's police chief, mayor, police commission chair and the Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB).

Now, Madu has ordered a beefed-up action plan and directed an investigation into LPS use of its police databases over the last 10 years.

"I must advise I was disappointed with the plan," Madu wrote in a letter to police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh.

"A detailed review by myself and department staff identified a number of significant and substantive deficiencies. The plan needs to be modified."

LERB investigation ordered

Mehdizadeh delivered the plan in April after Minister Kaycee Madu said change needed to happen immediately or else the force could be disbanded.

Over the last couple of years, LPS made headlines over several scandals and corruption allegations including several allegations that officers have been accessing internal policing database systems for personal use.

Madu wrote that he wanted LPS to address concerns "that arose following a number of recent events that questioned their ability to provide effective and adequate policing to the citizens of the City of Lethbridge.

"One of the key concerns respects unauthorized access to and use of the LPS databases," wrote Madu to the Law Enforcement Review Board.

Madu wants misconduct investigations prioritized

The board can make recommendations that include legislative, policy, and practice improvements relating to police conduct and discipline.

Madu has asked the board to look into whether anyone connected to LPS did anything to "enable, support, facilitate, condone, promote, or encourage the misuse or unauthorized access use or disclosure of LPS databases and information."

The new document must be delivered to the minister by June 25. After that, Madu said a senior officer from another police service will be appointed to work with LPS on the implementation of the plan.

The new plan must clearly identify the problems LPS is trying to address as well as its goals.

Madu also wants to see details on how the service will "swiftly and firmly" deal with outstanding misconduct investigations and disciplinary processes. The minister wants hard timelines and a commitment to prioritizing pending investigations.

A change management strategy will also be implemented to address the workplace culture.

Finally, Madu has asked for a copy of the LPS recruitment strategy.

"The Lethbridge Police Commission is in the process of working with the Lethbridge Police Service to provide that information, which included requests of the Commission which hadn't been asked for previously," said the commission in a statement provided to CBC News.

Recent scandals

LPS has been plagued with recent misconduct allegations.

Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips was the target of a police spying incident in 2017.

Earlier this year, Phillips won the right to appeal the discipline and seek a more severe outcome for two officers — Const. Keon Woronuk and Sgt. Jason Carrier — who were temporarily demoted for spying on Phillips while on duty in 2017.

In another Phillips-related scandal, documents showed an LPS civilian employee and five officers — including a deputy chief and a staff sergeant — accessed personal information on the MLA when she was environment minister, yet no investigative purpose was given for any of the searches.

MemeGate

Mehdizadeh also recently suspended five officers who were allegedly involved in creating and disseminating what has been described by sources as "toxic" memes targeting senior brass and Phillips.

The force came under recent scrutiny when CBC News reported that a retired LPS inspector, who was head of a victims' advocacy group, had a sexual relationship with a client — a domestic violence survivor — who said their relationship was not consensual.

When the woman went to LPS, the man's friends and former colleagues were initially assigned to investigate him, with the woman saying they were dismissive and that she worried about potential conflict of interest.

At least one officer has been suspended pending investigation for allegedly digging into the woman's personal information using police databases.

On May 11, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was directed to investigate an allegation that an officer had mishandled evidence. According to sources, that suspension is also related to the alleged sexual assault case involving a retired LPS officer.