LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Two Alberta police officers have been temporarily demoted over unauthorized surveillance of a former environment minister and people she met with to discuss a controversial plan to restrict off-road vehicles in a new park.
Lethbridge police Sgt. Jason Carrier and Const. Keon Woronuk admitted to using their positions for personal and political reasons, says a disciplinary hearing decision issued on July 9, 2020 and obtained by CHAT News.
An agreed statement of facts at the hearing indicates that Carrier was on duty but on a meal break on April 17, 2017, with two other officers when then-minister Shannon Phillips entered the Chef Stella Diner in Lethbridge to meet informally with stakeholders on the Castle region changes.
The new provincial park was announced in the region by the previous NDP government in January 2017, and changes included restricting unregulated off-road vehicle use of the environmentally sensitive area.
Carrier texted Woronuk, who was acting sergeant on duty at the time, with a picture of the meeting and location, and Woronuk attended the diner shortly thereafter.
Both officers had a shared interest in the off-road vehicle use within the Castle region, the hearing report notes.
They took photos of the meeting and, as they left, Woronuk said to Carrier that he, "would hate to see Phillips drive away from the restaurant and there was a reason to stop her," the agreed facts says.
Woronuk was also involved in setting up surveillance and then following one of the stakeholders while running a police information check on them. He sent a screenshot of the database search to Carrier and an unnamed third Lethbridge police officer, which Carrier said he never received until later when he'd returned to headquarters. He said he didn't immediately understand why Woronuk had sent it.
Carrier had left Chef Stella and stationed himself at a nearby parkade with a view of the diner, says the agreed facts, where he caught up on reports and monitored the area, which was known for prostitution. He went back to the police station shortly after seeing Phillips leave the diner by foot.
"The intent of Const. (Keon) Woronuk to target an attendee of Minister Phillips' meeting is truly troubling," stated the hearing's presiding officer Paul Manuel. "I cannot see any purpose for such an action."
Woronuk subsequently posted photos of the meeting on a Facebook page under the name "Mike Corps," which included identifying the stakeholders and a long caption criticizing Phillips and her NDP government.
That prompted Phillips to complain to Calgary police, who uncovered the unauthorized database search. They then passed the investigation on to Medicine Hat police resulting in Police Act charges being laid.
Phillips, who is MLA for Lethbridge-West, said she only learned about the surveillance details on Monday.
"It's terrifying that law enforcement would abuse their power and contravene my rights in this way," Phillips told reporters during an online news conference Monday evening.
Kathleen Ganley, who was justice minister at the time and who is now the Opposition NDP's justice critic, called for the province to appoint an out-of-province investigator to look into the matter.
"I don't think this matter can be left with the police service at this point, because there are grave concerns about the actions that were taken here," Ganley told the news conference.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said in a series of tweets late Monday that the province's police watchdog has been ordered to review the professional standards investigation to determine if there are grounds for a criminal probe.
Schweitzer also said he has instructed his department to arrange for an out-of-province prosecutor if the watchdog requires legal advice in its investigation, or on whether charges should be laid.
"I was not previously aware of this incident nor was the government involved in the professional standards investigation which resulted in the temporary demotion of the two officers involved," Schweitzer tweeted.
"To say it is completely unacceptable that members of the police would conduct unauthorized surveillance of any Albertan — in particular an elected official — is an understatement."
Woronuk admitted to five counts under the Police Service Regulation, including two counts of corrupt practice and a single count each of deceit, discreditable conduct and insubordination.
The penalty will see the constable demoted from senior constable to first-class constable for two years.
Carrier admitted to discreditable conduct and neglect of duty and was demoted to senior constable from sergeant for one year.
In a statement issued by Carrier's lawyer on behalf his client, the officer reiterated the hearing's findings that he was not involved in the surveillance of any individual and was not aware of the full nature of what had occurred until several weeks later.
The decision noted both officers had good service records and that both had been given citations for their work, including Woronuk who is a nearly 20-year veteran of the Lethbridge police.
Lethbridge police did not reply to requests for comment. (CHAT)
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 13.
Alex McCuaig, CHAT, The Canadian Press