It's a scandal ripped from the tabloid headlines -- a veteran newspaper columnist who takes on the police force finds himself under surveillance, the victim of a sting operation that even ensnarled the police commission chair.
Since November, Edmonton has been abuzz with the case of Kerry Diotte, the Sun columnist who angered police by writing about what he said was their propensity for high-speed chases.
Edmonton police hoped to catch him driving while impaired one night, only to apparently be foiled when he took a cab home from a social event attended by dozens of journalists and local politicians.
The headlines took another dramatic turn yesterday, when transcripts of police radio transmissions emerged revealing officers saying they would just have to bag their "target" on "another day, another time."
Police have said all along it wasn't a sting -- just a tip they dutifully acted on. And their chief backed the statement, even though he recently expressed doubt about the quality of the tip that led police to the bar in the first place.
"We were interested in [Mr. Diotte]because of his behaviour, and not necessarily because of who he was or what he might have said in the newspaper," Chief Fred Rayner told reporters last week.
On yesterday's reported transcripts of police radio transmissions, officers were joking about the tip and their "target."
"I think the guy who gets this target will never have to pay for a drink as long as he lives," one unidentified officer reportedly said.
The transcripts of the tapes also revealed that the officers knew where Mr. Diotte lived, with one describing his house. They are also heard joking about his columns and accusing him of stealing them off the Internet. "You know what -- I'd do his job and I'd do it better than him. A fucking idiot can write that up in about five minutes," one officer reportedly said.
After Mr. Diotte, who does not have a criminal record, was spotted by plainclothes officers leaving the bar in a cab, one officer remarked: "Oh well, we gave it the good old college try."
Another officer replied: "Well, I think we will be able to tag [Mr. Diotte]on another day, another time."
Mr. Diotte, who has been a journalist for 25 years, said yesterday: "From what I heard on the tapes . . . it was far more serious than [Chief Rayner]led people to believe. It's pretty easy to judge that."
Mr. Diotte alleges he was targeted because of past columns criticizing police tactics, and wants the case to be reviewed by an independent body. "That tape tends to indicate they have been looking for me for a while. They still may be," he said. "That's creepy; that's wrong. That shouldn't happen in a democratic country."
The police sting first came to light when a newspaper reporter listening to a police radio on Nov. 18 heard officers talking about the popular columnist.
Mr. Diotte also wants Chief Rayner to immediately release the extensive internal investigation conducted into the stakeout, including the police transmissions.
Chief Rayner was not available to comment yesterday. However, in a news release written Saturday, he acknowledged the incident has been "extremely difficult" for both Mr. Diotte and Martin Ignasiak, the chair of the police commission.
(While the chief denied last week that Mr. Ignasiak was also targeted during the sting, it was revealed on Friday by police officials that officers were after him, too, on Nov. 18, and even assigned him a codename, T2, which stood for Target Two.)