Lethbridge police promise to cooperate fully with investigation into alleged unauthorized checks on MLA

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.

Chief Shahin Mehdizahdeh says the force takes the matter involving Shannon Phillips seriously and the “vast majority” of officers and staff are committed a policy of objective policing.

“As a service we are dedicated to honourable, bias-free policing.

“That is a long-established goal of this organization,” Mehdizahdeh said Wednesday.

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

“We already have established policies to support and reinforce that standard, and the vast majority of our officers and civilian staff are committed to following and supporting it.”

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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.

This week, Phillips confirmed she found evidence of such checks when she searched her file under freedom-of-information rules.

Read more: MLA Shannon Phillips discusses ‘shocking’ information about Lethbridge police revealed in FOIP request

Phillips is currently the Opposition NDP’s finance critic and legislature member for Lethbridge West.

Mehdizadeh said ASIRT will get whatever it needs.

“As a police service, we are privileged with access to certain information about our citizens,” he said.

“Every citizen deserves the right to privacy when it comes to that information. We will ensure every request made by those (ASIRT) 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.

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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.

Read more: Protesters rally against Alberta’s proposed phase-out of off-highway vehicles in Castle area

Phillips said the 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.

In the legislature Tuesday, Phillips said she will continue to work to get to the bottom of what happened. She said it’s not just her but for others who may not have the resources that she does to fight back.

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

“No wonder it’s so hard to recruit women into politics,” Phillips told the house in a member’s statement.

“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.

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“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.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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