The chief of the Lethbridge Police Service in southern Alberta says it will co-operate fully with an investigation into officers who allegedly made unauthorized checks on a provincial cabinet minister.
Shahin Mehdizadeh says the force takes the matter involving Shannon Phillips seriously and the “vast majority” of officers and staff are committed to a policy of objective policing.
“As a service we are dedicated to honourable, bias-free policing,” Mehdizadeh said Wednesday.
“We have a lot of great people here, a lot of good men and women here who protect this community every day and do a lot of wonderful things.
“But are we a perfect organization? No. I have not seen a perfect organization anywhere.”
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the province’s police watchdog informally called ASIRT, is looking into whether five Lethbridge officers and one civilian employee breached the politician’s privacy by making multiple database checks on her while she was environment minister in 2018.
Phillips has confirmed she found evidence of such checks when she searched her file under freedom-of-information rules.
Phillips is currently the Opposition NDP’s finance critic and legislature member for Lethbridge West.
“Lethbridge Police Service was not following or monitoring Miss Phillips. There are a few individuals who have made some bad judgments in using our systems,” said Mehdizadeh, who has been on the job for six months.
He urged the public not to rush to conclusions until the ASIRT investigation is complete. He said he is committed to holding officers accountable if warranted.
“We have to look at the facts. We have to look at the severity of their actions, why they did it, which comes through an investigation, and make a proper decision — not judgment,” said Mehdizadeh.
“I don’t like to judge people. I don’t believe human beings are entitled to judge other human beings. Only God judges us.”
Mehdizadeh said ASIRT will get whatever it needs.
“We will ensure every request made by those investigators is fully accommodated.”
The investigation is separate from a case involving two Lethbridge officers who admitted to staking out and photographing Phillips at a diner in 2017. They said they were concerned about her actions to reduce off-highway vehicle use in the nearby Castle Region park.
A photo of the meeting was later posted anonymously on Facebook with the caption: “Everyone’s favourite hypocrite.”
The two officers were temporarily demoted last summer, but Phillips said that punishment is too lenient. She recently won the right to appeal.
Phillips said her freedom-of-information search also revealed that in 2016 Lethbridge police investigated a case of someone receiving a spiked drink in a bar. One witness believed the drink was intended for Phillips, who said police never warned her that she might have been a target.
Mehdizadeh said he might review what happened. Police policy would have had Phillips informed if there was a serious concern about her safety, he added.
“If there was something that wasn’t done in 2016, I apologize for that. But I’m sure if there was a serious concern about her safety, she would have been notified,” he said.
In the legislature Tuesday, Phillips said she will get to the bottom of what happened. She said it’s not just for her, but for others who may not have the resources that she does to fight back.
“Here we have an MLA and a (cabinet) minister that has been photographed, a plan to follow her was hatched, her records were searched, false content about her was circulated by in-uniform police officers.
“I have dedicated my adult life and my career to democracy. Those principles will guide everything I do to make sure there is accountability at the Lethbridge Police Service.”
The president of the Lethbridge Police Association, Jay McMillan said its important a non-biased investigation is done, not just for the public, but for the officers involved.
“I think it’s also fair for members involved in this profession to be afforded opportunities at justice, you know, being subject to fair procedures and fair evaluations, and not have their issues played out online,” said McMillan.
Mehdizadeh said other, unrelated complaints of police misconduct will be coming forward. Most of the allegations were made years ago, he said.
“There are some files that are coming basically for review right now after an investigation has been conducted,” he said.
Mehdizadeh is asking the public to be patient.
“Some citizens may have the illusion as the chief of police I can just go fire people. I can’t do that. The police act does not allow for that.”