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Then-Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips is seen in a June 28, 2018, file photo.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

The head of the Lethbridge Police Service in southern Alberta says it’s shameful and inexcusable that two officers did unauthorized surveillance on a provincial cabinet minister.

Chief Scott Woods also notes that temporary demotions of the two officers are considered to be significant and on the high end of punishment.

“The actions for which these officers – Sgt. Jason Carrier and Const. Keon Woronuk – were disciplined cannot be excused,” Woods said in a statement Tuesday.

“The fact that they admitted to the charges of misconduct indicates that they acknowledge this reality.

“But acknowledging the wrongdoing does not take away the embarrassment and shame that has been brought upon the LPS by their actions, nor does it mitigate the justified anger and profound disappointment of Ms. (Shannon) Phillips and others in our community.”

Woods released the statement a day after a story by CHAT News revealed the results of a recent police disciplinary hearing for Carrier and Woronuk.

The two admitted that in April 2017 they had not been authorized to watch then-environment minister Phillips while she met with people in a diner to discuss a new park in the Castle region. The plan included restricting off-road vehicles in the environmentally sensitive area.

Hearing notes say both officers had a shared interest in off-roading there.

Woronuk was demoted from senior constable to first-class constable for two years, and Carrier was reduced in rank to senior constable from sergeant for one year.

“While I am deeply disappointed in the actions and attitudes of the officers, I do take some consolation in knowing they have been held accountable,” Woods said in the statement.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer has directed the province’s police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation.

“We have to get to the heart of it,” Schweitzer told the house during question period. “Our democracy is founded on the independence of people having the freedom to live their lives.

“Our police have an immense amount of power in our lives. They have to do it reasonably. They have to do it within the boundaries of the law.”

Phillips, now the Opposition NDP legislature member for Lethbridge-West, said the two officers should be fired. She said the matter goes to the heart of trust in police and that an independent outside investigator needs to be brought in.

“People across this city will wonder, if they are pulled over or otherwise subjected to an interaction with law enforcement, whether that’s on the up and up,” Phillips said in an interview.

“It’s puzzling to me that law enforcement, whether they are police associations, whether they are police chiefs, or others, would want to allow that erosion of public trust to continue because it gets in the way of their doing their job.”

The Lethbridge Police Association, representing the officers, countered with its own statement.

“Contrary to what some articles and media headlines have reported, although there was an intention by one of the cited officers to conduct targeted enforcement, MLA Phillips was never followed,” said Mike Darby, vice president of the association.

“The 30-page penalty decision circulating in the media was written by a retired superintendent of the Calgary Police Service who has a plethora of knowledge and experience in police discipline.

“Although police officers are held to a higher standard by the public, occasionally errors in judgment are made.”

The disciplinary hearing’s agreed statement of facts, posted by CHAT News, indicates that Carrier was on duty but on a meal break on April 17, 2017, when Phillips entered the Chef Stella Diner to meet with stakeholders about changes to the Castle region.

Carrier texted Woronuk, and soon after Woronuk arrived at the restaurant.

The document says the officers took photos of the meeting and, before 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.”

Woronuk was also involved in setting up surveillance, then followed one of the stakeholders while running a police information check on them.

Carrier had left the restaurant, stationed himself at a nearby parkade with a view of the diner, but left after seeing Phillips depart on foot.

The Lethbridge force has made headlines before for questionable behaviour.

In May, Woods initiated an investigation of officer conduct after a restaurant worker in a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume and carrying a toy plastic gun was forced to the ground and ended up with a bloody nose.

Last year, a Lethbridge officer was investigated after a video surfaced of him repeatedly running over an injured deer with his vehicle to euthanize the animal. ASIRT determined the officer would not face criminal charges.

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