Working in politics and for elected officials is an experience where you get to do many things and hone many different skills. From research, to getting to know policy, budgeting skills and right down to the interpersonal, you find yourself in all kinds of situations and positions. It’s part of what comes with the job, both for the elected person and their staff, and it’s a big part of the experience.
Part of the interpersonal experience comes from dealing with constituents and local stakeholders on issues big and small. Those people come to their elected officials looking for help and a sympathetic ear, many times after they’ve ran into walls trying to get their situations dealt with. That is a big part of our democratic process, a big part of how everyday citizens can interact with their government and important to the health of our democracy. Any attempt to circumvent that or impede it is disturbing on it’s face and antithetical to our democratic norms. That’s why a story that came out from Lethbridge yesterday jumped out at me, for all the wrong reasons:
This story just blew my mind in just how brazen it and totally inappropriate it was in a democratic country, let alone in Canada. As CHAT News in Medicine Hat reported yesterday, back in 2017 two Lethbridge police officers undertook unauthorized surveillance of former Alberta environment minister and current NDP MLA for Lethbridge-West Shannon Phillips and the constituents that she met with regarding a decision the government was taking. What was this awful decision that pushed these two veteran officers to take such an unwarranted and anti-democratic move? The creation of a new provincial park in the region, a move that involved “restricting unregulated off-road vehicle use of the environmentally-sensitive area.”
Yep, it turns out that these two officers were cheezed off because they liked to go off-roading and the decided that was enough to warrant what they did next, to hell with the anti-democratic nature of those actions. The CHAT story goes into full details of what these two officers did, which included full-on surveillance of MLA Phillips and the constituents that she met with on this matter. On top of that, one of the officers involved followed “one of the stakeholders while running a police information check on them.” Seriously, he ran a police check on a random citizen for the apparent crime of disagreeing with his view. How much more undemocratic does it get?
The fact is that’s the kind of crap you usually see in third-world, banana republics, not in Canada. That’s usually the sign of failed states, not thriving democracies. And yet what was the punishment for these two veteran officers, who clearly knew that what they were doing was wrong and should have known better? They both were “temporarily demoted” following a disciplinary hearing. Temporarily demoted, think about that in this current environment where we’re talking about the role of police in our society. How in the Hell is that an appropriate discipline for such actions at any time, let alone these days? It’s simply not and just smells to high Hell.
Here is the kicker in all of this to me; it’s not like these officers didn’t have means or methods to raise their concerns with their MLA. They could have done exactly what those constituents they spied on did; they could have made an appointment and gone in to meet with MLA Phillips, raising their concerns with her and taking part normally. But instead they decided to use their position as trust police officers and the resources those positions brought to try to bring suspicion and disrepute on the MLA and their fellow citizens, all of whom they supposed swore an oath to “serve and protect”. And it seems that this decision didn’t come too hard to their minds. Nope, it didn’t seem that there was any ethical dilemma in their decision. It seemed that all they were worried about was their ability to be able to ride their ATV’s in the wild at their whim and to Hell with the rest.
And folks, just to give you an idea of their mindset, the decision against this officers pointed out that in one incident one of the officers said to the other that he “would hate to see Phillips drive away from the restaurant and there was a reason to stop her.” That tells you everything about their mindset. They weren’t interested in simply engaging in the democratic process as citizens. They were looking to intimidate an elected official and use their sacred position to do it. Again, that’s a corrupt mindset that should be nowhere near any police force in this country yet instead of being fired and put out on their asses, these two have been “temporarily suspended”. And then people wonder why some people don’t have the best views of police at times.
The fact that this story has come out now it’s disturbing and says terrible things about the culture of that police force. Adding to that fact that their “punishment” is a temporary suspension says that terrible, anti-democratic behaviour isn’t that bad in their eyes. Seriously, how do you not get fired over that kind of banana republic crap? That’s a question that the Lethbridge Police needs to answer and pronto because they want to keep officers in their force who act so unethically, that same more about their work culture than anything else. I hope that they step up and correct this fast because what these two officers were found to have done is precisely the kind of activity that we have sent troops to war to stop in other countries. If we’re going to be blasé about that kind of behaviour here now, that will say more about the sad state of our democracy than anything else.