Lethbridge MLA targeted in unauthorized surveillance wins right to appeal officers' punishment

·3 min read

A former Alberta cabinet minister has scored a victory in her fight with the Lethbridge Police Service — and is calling for the firing of two officers.

Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West, won the right to appeal the way two officers were punished after they surveilled her without authorization more than three years ago, while she was the environment minister.

"I think ultimately … that these two officers ought to have been relieved of their duties," Phillips told CBC's Calgary Eyeopeneron Wednesday.

"I do not believe that the LPS can maintain public trust and therefore public safety with these two fellas still, you know, patrolling the street."

In a Jan. 22 decision from Alberta's Law Enforcement Review Board, it ruled in Phillips's favour saying, "the process the [police] chief engaged in lacked procedural fairness, was prima facie tainted and flawed, and lacked transparency."

"Misconduct arising out of the appellant's complaint was effectively hidden from [Phillips]," the decision read in part.

Back in July, Phillips called for an independent, out-of-province investigation, after learning two Lethbridge police officers had surveilled her without authorization.

Lethbridge Sgt. Jason Carrier and Const. Keon Woronuk were temporarily demoted following a disciplinary hearing decision issued June 9.

The pair admitted to watching and photographing Phillips, who was then the provincial environment minister, during a 2017 meeting she had in a diner in Lethbridge. One of them admitted to following and running the licence plate of one of the people she met with, saying his actions were motivated by his personal and political views.

Both officers were involved in the off-roading community, whose members were upset by plans by the then-NDP government to restrict off-road vehicle use and create a provincial park in the environmentally sensitive Castle area of southwestern Alberta.

Phillips says she was not discussing a potential new park in the Castle region during the diner meeting.

Sarah Rieger/CBC
Sarah Rieger/CBC

The officers were found guilty on seven counts, including corrupt practice, discreditable conduct, deceit and neglect of duty. Woronuk, who had followed and ran the licence plate of the stakeholder, was demoted from senior constable to first-class constable for two years, while Carrier was demoted from sergeant to senior constable for one year.

'Tremendous personal cost'

Phillips said the surveillance was a "gross and disgusting abrogation" of her rights.

"One does not conduct law enforcement based on one's emotions or feelings," she said.

"That is not a reasonable grounds to surveil someone, to harass them, to take surreptitious photographs, to post libellous statements about them."

Phillips said it was "extremely discreditable conduct" by the officers. She said the court procedures have come at "tremendous personal cost."

"I'm multi-thousands of dollars out of pocket personally for this," she said, adding her motive is to "do the right thing."

"It is about using this example in order to make sure that we do not have bad police officers creating a permission structure for further bad behaviour," she said.

She says the officers' actions were anti-democratic behaviour that "cannot be tolerated."

"Let's restore public trust and public safety," Phillips said. "Let's make sure our resources are being used appropriately."

In a statement, the Lethbridge Police Service said it "respects the decision of the Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB) in regards to Ms. Phillips's appeal, acknowledges her right to appeal the earlier decision, and fully appreciates the importance of the process."

The statement also says that while the Lethbridge Police Service intends to provide the LERB with "any assistance it may require," it would not comment further until the board releases its findings on the appeal.

With files from Sarah Rieger and the Calgary Eyeopener.