Women in politics are routinely subjected to hate mail from assorted misogynists. Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips is no exception. According to her constituency assistant, “We used to say that if we hadn’t been called a bitch by nine in the morning, we weren’t at work yet.”

It continues today, but it was worse when Phillips was environment minister in the former NDP government. It got particularly bad when she proposed a plan to phase out off-highway vehicle use on designated trails in Castle Provincial Park, west of Lethbridge.

Off-road enthusiasts were seriously annoyed. And some of them were cops. That shouldn’t matter in a democracy—the police set their politics aside when their on duty, right?

Not apparently some Lethbridge police officers. They began keeping an eye on Phillips. They took surreptitious photographs of her and posted them anonymously on the internet. Environmentalist friends of hers were followed by police and had their licence plate searched. Officers accessed records containing Phillips’ personal information with no investigative purpose given. They opened police files on her, again with no investigative purpose.

And this wasn’t one or two officers. At least a half dozen were involved, including a staff sergeant and a deputy chief. Two are associated with the organization’s Professional Standards Unit.

The spying incident was investigated by the Medicine Hat Police Service and two officers were disciplined and demoted. However in February the Law Enforcement Review Board called the disciplinary process “tainted, flawed and grossly inadequate” and granted Phillips the right to appeal which she almost certainly will. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is launching a second investigation.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu has now met with the Lethbridge Police Chief  and told him the service must up its game or the province will step in. The chief has indicated new allegations of misconduct are expected to be revealed shortly.

This is spooky stuff. If the police are out to get you, where do you go for help? Will NDP politicians in Lethbridge have to look over their shoulders? Will environmentalists?

This has a way to go before it’s resolved. However that is done, a strong message must be sent. As the justice minister said, “The men and women of law enforcement possess a great deal of power, and all Albertans should be outraged when that power is abused.” Well, that power has been abused in Lethbridge, and the cops should feel the outrage.

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