Public inquiry ordered by justice minister into Lethbridge police to proceed

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Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, left, has ordered that the Law Enforcement Review Board conduct a public inquiry into practices and policies of the Lethbridge Police Service. In March 2021, CBC News reported that Lethbridge NDP MLA Shannon Phillips, right, was monitored by police while she was the NDP's environment minister. LPS Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh, middle, took over the reins of the service in July 2020. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press, Dave Rae/CBC News - image credit)
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, left, has ordered that the Law Enforcement Review Board conduct a public inquiry into practices and policies of the Lethbridge Police Service. In March 2021, CBC News reported that Lethbridge NDP MLA Shannon Phillips, right, was monitored by police while she was the NDP's environment minister. LPS Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh, middle, took over the reins of the service in July 2020. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press, Dave Rae/CBC News - image credit)

A public inquiry into practices and policies of the Lethbridge Police Service is set to proceed this year in the wake of multiple instances of unauthorized access of police databases.

In March 2021, CBC News reported that Lethbridge NDP MLA Shannon Phillips was monitored by police while she was the NDP's environment minister.

A freedom of information request revealed that individuals who work for the LPS searched a police database eight times for her name with no investigative purpose.

Officers also took photographs of Phillips while she was at a diner in 2017, posting them anonymously online.

CBC News previously reported that Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu wanted the Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB) 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."

Now, additional details and a new timeline into that inquiry are listed as part of a series of correspondence obtained by CBC News. Addressed to Phillips, the documents are attributed to DDC Lawyers LLP, the law firm appointed as inquiry counsel under the Police Act.

One document attributed to Madu states that the LERB must submit its findings in a report no later than July 31, 2022.

"The inquiry will not focus on specific incidents or events," reads a letter from the firm.

"Rather, the focus will be on LPS policies, procedures and practices for information databases and record management systems over the last 10 years."

READ | The entire series of correspondence, addressed to Lethbridge NDP MLA Shannon Phillips and attributed to DDC Lawyers LLP:

One letter in the package notes that the addendum has yet to be signed by the minister, but that the unsigned version is being forwarded while the signature is pending so as to not delay the progression of the inquiry.

In an interview, Phillips said the inquiry was an opportunity for Albertans to send a message to law enforcement that what happened was "way over the line of acceptable behaviour."

"If law enforcement can and will feel complete impunity, to rummage around in the private records of a minister of the Crown, and a sitting local MLA," she said. "And to express absolutely no remorse or understanding of how this was a wrong and, quite frankly, criminal thing to do.

"If that's the culture around law enforcement, then every Albertan has an interest in making sure that that practice is stopped, that it is appropriately punished, that there is accountability."

In March 2021, Madu threatened to dissolve the service if it did not submit a detailed report on misconduct in its ranks, calling the initial report from LPS Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh disappointing before approving a subsequent version.

Requests for comment sent on Friday to the justice minister and to LPS were not returned by press time.

Scope of the inquiry

The new document includes an addendum to the terms of reference signed by Madu on May 13, 2021.

The addendum states that the board must determine whether proposed and implemented changes from the LPS are "sufficient to safeguard against unauthorized access, use and disclosure of the LPS databases and record management systems."

If the inquiry hasn't concluded by July 31, the board must provide Madu with an estimate of the time required to conclude the inquiry, and must submit its report within three months after concluding.

According to the document, the deadline for applications for standing in the inquiry is Jan. 10.

Issues surrounding unauthorized access of police databases are among a host of public controversies borne by the force in recent years.

In late 2021, Lethbridge's police commission rejected a call for a different public inquiry into allegations that members of the LPS threatened retaliation against Phillips and CBC journalist Meghan Grant for exposing misconduct within the force.

Three officers also recently pled guilty to misconduct and two others planned to retire for their roles in circulating inappropriate memes of police leaders.

In December 2021, Mehdizadeh told The Canadian Press that it was his job to fix the problems faced by the department.

"I don't have the authority to make arbitrary decisions to get rid of people or fire people," he said. "There are legal processes that we have to adhere to, that we have to be respectful of and compliant to move forward."

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