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Edmonton's police chief, who has been under fire for a police sting operation roundly condemned as unethical and unconscionable, went on indefinite medical leave Monday.

"The Edmonton Police Commission was just notified through counsel for Police Chief Fred Rayner that effective immediately he is on a medical leave of absence and deputy chief Darryl da Costa has been appointed acting chief," police commission chairman Martin Ignasiak told reporters.

The medical condition was not disclosed. Chief Rayner could not be reached immediately for comment.

The chief touched off controversy last Thursday when he released a report into a Nov. 18 police stakeout at a downtown bar.

There have been accusations newspaper columnist Kerry Diotte and Mr. Ignasiak were targeted by police that night because they had been critics of the police.

Chief Rayner, however, said the stakeout was launched on an anonymous tip that Mr. Diotte might be planning to drink and drive. It was coincidence, said Chief Rayner, that Mr. Ignasiak was at the same location.

He announced disciplinary hearings would be held into the actions of two senior officers and said another officer was being investigated for allegedly using inappropriate language on the police radio.

The story unravelled a day later, when police were forced to admit that Mr. Ignasiak was indeed targeted and had even been given the designation T2 for Target 2 by officers on the stakeout. Mr. Diotte was T1.

More outrage followed over the weekend, when police radio transcripts from that night, which Chief Rayner had refused to make public until the disciplinary proceedings, were published by The Edmonton Journal.

On the transcripts, officers are heard trying to tailor the sting operation to avoid having to later admit they had spotter officers in the bar. They joke about the anonymous tip that launched the stakeout. They mock Mr. Diotte's column, clothes and physical appearance and talk of previous surveillance on his house. They target Mr. Ignasiak but give up when he hails a cab, telling each other they "gave it the good old college try."

Earlier Monday, Alberta Solicitor-General Harvey Cenaiko said he was considering calling a public inquiry into the affair under the Police Act.

He called the behaviour of police on the stakeout "extremely, extremely inappropriate."

Mr. Cenaiko, a former Calgary police officer, said it was obvious from reading the transcript that the two police critics were targeted.

"It's very upsetting," he said. "What happens is that it places a black mark on the whole Edmonton Police Service and it shouldn't.

"There are a number of officers there that have done something that is totally irresponsible, totally wrong."

Ron Hayter, a veteran city councillor, said his confidence in Chief Rayner was shaken.

"This is absolutely unacceptable in our society," said Mr. Hayter. "If we allow this kind of thing to happen without taking very strong measures against everybody involved, then we've got to fear for our freedom."

Mr. Diotte and Mr. Ignasiak were attending a Canadian Association of Journalists event at a downtown bar when they came under the surveillance of seven officers. Both took cabs home but denied being intoxicated.

Chris Braiden, a former Edmonton police superintendent, joined opposition critics and defence lawyers in the call for a public inquiry.

He said the seven-officer sting was far from the routine operation Chief Rayner suggested it was.

The responsible answer to a tip that someone was planning to drink and drive would be for one officer to go to the bar and warn him not to do it, Mr. Braiden said.

Six of the seven officers involved in the stakeout escaped censure by Chief Rayner because they were following orders. But Mr. Braiden said officers have a responsibility to refuse unethical orders.

Mr. Cenaiko said he will be introducing legislation this spring that will provide additional civilian oversight of police activities.

Chief Rayner, a 25-year veteran of the Edmonton police and deputy chief since 1997, is in his first year in the top job.

When Chief Rayner took over from Chief Bob Wasylyshen, the service had just been through allegations by a former vice squad officer that some of his colleagues on the force shook down hookers for sex and money in the mid-1980s.

Then there was an anonymous allegation that city officers took perks from a company they later recommended for a contract to operate photo radar.

Chief Rayner has also been facing heat for a rise in police chases, which have more than doubled in the last four years.