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ASIRT launches 2nd investigation into Lethbridge police’s surveillance of MLA Shannon Phillips

Then-Alberta Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips speaks at a press conference after a meeting with provincial and territorial environment ministers in Ottawa on Thursday, June 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

A second investigation has been launched by Alberta’s police watchdog into the possible unauthorized surveillance of Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips by that city’s police department.

On Tuesday, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team said it had been directed last week to investigate the circumstances surrounding a series of potentially unauthorized uses of police databases by members of the Lethbridge Police Service.

ASIRT said on Feb. 1, director of law enforcement William Sweeney was notified that the results of a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request revealed a number of potentially unauthorized searches of the name and related files of an individual.

Phillips confirmed she was the subject of the searches which ASIRT said were conducted between January and November in 2018 when she was Alberta’s environment minister while the NDP was in power.

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Read more: Lethbridge police chief weighs in after ASIRT launches investigation into surveillance of former minister by officers

Phillips tweeted a letter from her lawyer, Ruttan Bates, which said the FOIP requested an audit of all Lethbridge police database searches dating back to May 2015, which is when Phillips was elected to office. The statement said Phillips was reviewing her legal options and declined to comment further at this time.

Last year, ASIRT also launched an investigation after two Lethbridge police officers conducted unauthorized surveillance on Phillips in April 2017.

The officers sat near Phillips in a downtown Lethbridge diner while she had a meeting with a small group of people. The officers believed the informal meeting was about restricting off-road vehicles in the popular Castle Park wilderness area, however, Phillips said the meeting was about reintroducing buffalo into Banff National Park.

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Both men were avid outdoorsmen who frequented the area in question and were against Phillips’ ideas.

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According to an agreed statement of facts, the officers then followed people who had been in the meeting. Later, under an alias, one of them posted a photo of Phillips and the stakeholders to Facebook, including a long caption criticizing Phillips and the NDP government.

Read more: 2 Lethbridge police officers demoted after using positions for personal, political agendas

The two officers were demoted in July 2020. Phillips has appealed the disciplinary decision, arguing she should have been included in the hearing against the two men since she brought the issue to light.

Last week, the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board granted Phillips complainant status in the ongoing battle with the Lethbridge Police Service.

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Read more: Alberta MLA Shannon Phillips granted complainant status against LPS officers

It’s not known if the latest ASIRT probe is connected to the previous complaints. ASIRT did not release the nature of the searches done on the police database, which began about eight months after the diner incident.

ASIRT said its investigation will examine the instances where the databases were accessed to determine whether they were done for a lawful purpose.

ASIRT is an independent agency that investigates incidents involving Alberta police officers that have resulted in significant injury or death, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.

— With files from Quinn Campbell and Eloise Therien, Global News

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