A former Alberta environment minister who was photographed and surveilled by Lethbridge police officers who didn’t like her politics is appealing the disciplinary decision that saw them demoted but not fired.
Sgt. Jason Carrier and Const. Keon Woronuk were demoted last month after a hearing found each of them guilty of multiple counts of misconduct following a 2017 incident that New Democrat MLA Shannon Phillips later called the “stuff of police states.”
It was revealed that when Carrier and Woronuk spotted Phillips, then the environment minister, at the Chef Stella Diner in the southern Alberta city, the on-duty officers took photos of her —some of which they later posted to Facebook.
Carrier then watched Phillips leave the cafe, while Woronuk set up to surveil the group she was with, and even followed one of the diners and ran the car’s plates before losing it at a red light.
The notice of appeal, sent by Phillips’ lawyer, Michael Bates, to the Law Enforcement Review Board this week, argues the decision, which saw Carrier demoted for one year, and Woronuk for two, “fail(ed) to recognize the severity” of the two officers’ actions.
It also argues that targeting a cabinet minister for “personal political reasons,” should be enough to prove that neither is fit to continue as a police officer.
“I think public confidence in law enforcement was severely shaken in Lethbridge, and in fact across the province with the revelations of what happened,” Phillips told the Star on Friday.
“I also think the public had a lot of questions about whether justice was seen to be done in this instance.”
The disciplinary decision paints both officers as outdoors enthusiasts who disagreed with Phillips’ plans for the nearby Castle wilderness area, and feared new protections would restrict their use of the land, including use of ATVs, or all-terrain vehicles.
The decision also says Carrier claims he overheard the group discussing the plan, though Phillips has maintained that they were at the cafe talking about bison reintroduction in a different part of the province.
While the Lethbridge police department declined to comment on the appeal, when the officers’ actions were made public in mid-July Lethbridge Police Chief Scott Woods released a statement in which he said the two officers had been held accountable.
“The actions for which these officers — Sgt. Jason Carrier and Cst. Keon Woronuk — were disciplined cannot be excused. The fact that they admitted to the charges of misconduct indicates that they acknowledge this reality,” he wrote.
An investigation first began when Phillips was made aware of the photos on Facebook and made a complaint under the Police Act, prompting a probe by the Calgary Police Service.
While Woronouk initially “omitted” to mention that he’d run a licence plate without reason, when that was discovered it sparked a second, separate investigation by police in Medicine Hat.
The appeal notes that appeals usually have to be submitted 30 days after a decision, but Phillips and her lawyer argue that because Phillips wasn’t even aware the second investigation was happening, she should still be able to appeal.
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Phillips added she’s heard from many people, both in Lethbridge and across the country, who have questioned whether the punishment matched the offence, and said it only makes sense for the Law Enforcement Review Board to have another look.
“I’ve been living with this for three years,” she said. “This is the type of thing that had has been tolerated in this city for a long time. And as sad as it is, I’m used to it.”