As Ms Soapbox read the decision of retired superintendent Paul Manuel, formerly of the Calgary Police Service, in the disciplinary proceedings against two members of the Lethbridge Police Service who conducted unauthorized surveillance of an NDP Cabinet Minister at a breakfast meeting with four stakeholders, a thought crossed her mind: “When did having a meeting with a government cabinet minister become illegal?”
In April 2017 Sgt Carrier was having a meal with two junior officers at a Lethbridge diner. He spotted Shannon Phillips, then NDP Cabinet Minister responsible for parks and environment, having a breakfast meeting with four stakeholders.
They were in the booth behind him and he overheard Phillips discussing a proposal to create a new park in the Castle region. He texted Acting Sgt Woronuk to join him because Woronuk, like Carrier, enjoyed camping, fishing, hunting and off-roading in the Castle area and, like Carrier, did not support Phillip’s environmental policies. (It’s unclear where the two junior officers stood on NDP policies).
Another officer was invited to join them but by the time he got to the diner Carrier and Woronuk had left.
Carrier and Woronuk both took photos of Phillips and her party. Carrier also took a “selfie” of himself and Phillips, with the other stakeholders in the background.
As Carrier and Woronuk left the diner, Woronuk said he’d hate to see Phillips drive away from the restaurant and there be a reason to stop her. Carrier said just because she was a politician didn’t mean she’d get special treatment, she’d get a ticket.
They left in separate cars. Carrier parked near the diner, caught up on reports and monitored the area for “prostitution-like activities.” He saw Phillips leave at 11:35 AM. He returned to headquarters at 12:06 PM.
Woronuk set up surveillance from his car. He saw a stakeholder leave in a blue Mazda and followed to see if the driver committed a driving infraction. He ran a licence plate search through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) “for assistance in case he lost the vehicle” (this is how Woronuk identified the owner as Harvey Locke, whether Woronuk knew Locke was a well-respected conservationist is not clear). Woronuk sent Carrier a screen shot of the CPIC search in a text.
Woronuk lost the Mazda after five blocks; the other officer drove around the area looking for it but failed to find it.
The next day, using the name “Mike Corp”, Woronuk posted a Facebook photo of Phillips and the stakeholders and a long caption criticizing Phillips, the NDP government, and Harvey Locke. Woronuk was off duty at the time.
Phillips brought a complaint to the Calgary Police Service. The CPS investigation resulted in Carrier receiving a two-year warning and Woronuk receiving a one-year warning.
In the course of the CPS investigation, Woronuk submitted an Explanatory Report saying he’d identified Locke through internet searches. He omitted the fact he’d identified Locke through an unauthorized CPIC search.
When Woronuk’s CPIC search came to light a second, a collateral investigation was commenced by the Medicine Hat Police Service (MHPS).
On July 9, 2019 Carrier and Woronuk were charged with numerous counts of disciplinary misconduct relating to allegations of unauthorized surveillance and traffic enforcement. The officers entered “deny pleas” to all counts.
On June 24, 2020, after almost a year of “hard-nosed negotiation” the officers entered “Admit” pleas to some of the charges—Woronuk admitted to corrupt practice (using his position for the personal advantage of himself or another), discreditable conduct, deceit and insubordination. Carrier admitted to discreditable conduct (being an accessory) and neglect of duty (failing to report Woronuk’s unauthorized CPIC search).
The presiding officer at the MHPS hearing said all the right things: a police officer has extraordinary powers and an abuse of such powers is unacceptable. Policing must be conducted in a fair and unbiased manner. It is important that the public has utmost trust and confidence in the police service. Etc.
He characterized this case as one where the police officers put their self-interests ahead of their oath in office, (it’s not clear what exactly the officers hoped to accomplish by engaging in unauthorized surveillance and issuing traffic tickets to a citizen who’d just met with an NDP cabinet minister).
The presiding officer found that Woronuk targeted Phillips because he didn’t support Phillips’ policies and targeted Locke solely because he’d attended a meeting with Phillips. He said Woronuk admitted he had “no lawful reason to conduct his CPIC search and was motivated to do so by his personal and political views…” and that “the seriousness of … Woronuk’s misconduct cannot be understated…”
Woronuk was not dismissed, he was temporarily demoted to Constable 1st Class for two years. This would result in a loss of wages of $19,000.
With respect to Carrier, the presiding officer spoke about the importance of proper supervision, particularly in the rank of sergeant. He noted Carrier’s conversation with Woronuk outside the diner was “tacit approval” for Woronuk to proceed with his traffic enforcement plans and that Carrier failed in his duty as a supervisor by not addressing Woronuk’s actions with Woronuk after he’d discovered what Woronuk had done.
Carrier was temporarily demoted to Senior Constable Level II for one year. This was a wage loss of $11,600 and would impact his pension.
Why weren’t these officers dismissed?
Because in Alberta, the police investigate themselves under a statement of principles developed by the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board in 1993. These principles, unlike the law governing termination of employment in the private sector, include an obligation to consider extenuating circumstances like:
- length of service (here 23.5 years for Carrier and 19.5 years for Woronuk),
- previous good record (yes, in both cases)
- whether it was an isolated incident (yes)
- premeditation (none)
- provocation (Phillips was found not to have provoked the officers, however the presiding officer made a point of noting “…the members were motivated to act by what they perceived as an injustice with the proposed restrictions being placed in the Castle area.”)
Yes, we’ve reached the point in Alberta where imposing restrictions on camping, fishing and ATV-ing are considered an “injustice” by people entrusted to enforce the law.
So that’s it.
Woronuk engaged in unauthorized police surveillance of citizens and a minister of the Crown, his supervisor Carrier tacitly agreed to it, they got caught and will be temporarily demoted.
As you might expect the NDP and the public don’t think this is good enough so Justice Minister Schweitzer asked ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team) to look into the matter. Every single one of ASIRT’s 22 investigators, as of 2018, were current or former cops.*
And we’re right back to where we started.
ASIRT cops and former cops will be investigating a case previously investigated by the Medicine Hat Police Service (and adjudicated by a retired Calgary Police Service cop) which was originally investigated by the Calgary Police Service.
What the Justice Minister should have said was, enough, the unauthorized police surveillance of Albertans and a minister of the Crown will be investigated by an independent body.
Why? Because it’s the only way to rebuilt public trust.
*G&M July 16, 2020 p. A10