Questions raised about promotion, transfer for Edmonton police officers under investigation

·3 min read
The former operator of Nyala Lounge says he's facing new obstacles from authorities as he tries to lease out the space. (Nyala Lounge - image credit)
The former operator of Nyala Lounge says he's facing new obstacles from authorities as he tries to lease out the space. (Nyala Lounge - image credit)

A lawyer and his client are questioning the integrity of an internal Edmonton Police Service investigation into alleged racial profiling and harassment after the promotion of one officer and transfer of another.

Sgt. Stephan Vachon-Zee and Det. Colin Simpson were both members of the police service's Public Safety Compliance Team. The compliance team is being investigated for its conduct at the now-shuttered Nyala Lounge, a popular gathering spot for African Edmontonians.

Vachon-Zee was a constable before his promotion to sergeant at northeast division in May. EPS would not elaborate on his new duties but CBC has confirmed he is now a patrol sergeant.

Simpson, Vachon-Zee's former supervisor on the compliance team, has been transferred to the Professional Standards Branch where complaints, such as the one against him, are investigated.

Moe Tesfay, the former owner of Nyala Lounge, filed a complaint against the compliance team in July 2017.

"I'm honestly really shocked that they would promote someone that's still under investigation," Tesfay said in an interview Monday. "You can tell from there what the outcome will be."

CBC News
CBC News

Tesfay says that between 2015 and 2018, Nyala was the target of frequent and unwarranted inspections by large groups of armed officers that resulted in dozens of frivolous bylaw tickets. He says he was unlawfully arrested for filing a complaint.

Tesfay also accuses officers of knowingly making false public allegations about the safety of Nyala Lounge in a bid to shut it down.

He's one of several African Canadian business owners who accused the compliance team of mistreatment as the service now struggles to repair its relationship with members of Edmonton's racialized communities.

"There is no hope the police department is going to change anything for the African community," Tesfay said.

Tom Engel, Tesfay's lawyer, said the officers' promotion and transfer create "a reasonable apprehension of bias" on the part of Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee.

"How could he decide to promote [Vachon-Zee] … if he thought that it's possible that he might uphold the complaint and order that there be a disciplinary hearing?" Engel said.

He said Simpson works with the people who are responsible for drafting and reviewing the report about the complaint against him.

"So do you think they're going to be reluctant to recommend that he go to discipline? Well, you bet," Engel said.

The promotion of an officer facing serious complaints undermines officer morale and public confidence, he said.

"It's about them harassing the racialized community, and so it would suggest, to that community especially, that the police are not taking a complaint by one of their members seriously."

Dave Bajer/CBC
Dave Bajer/CBC

Edmonton police said the promotion process has many checks and balances to determine a candidate's suitability.

"An open investigation concerning member conduct is taken into consideration and may impact eligibility for promotion," police spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout wrote in an email.

"However, the existence of a complaint is not determinative. These matters are considered on a case-by-case basis."

Voordenhout said "the ultimate decision on a [Professional Standards Branch] file remains with the chief after a series of internal reviewers consider the file."

Sgt. Michael Elliott, head of the police union, said he could not comment on the case without the specifics "but the association believes the time it takes to conclude a file is not fair or reasonable to members, complainants or their families."

Police told CBC the investigation into Tesfay's complaint has been completed and it is currently being reviewed at the executive level.

The latest letter from police to Tesfay on May 20 said further investigation is required. Police declined to provide clarification.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting