The Edmonton police commission has fired Chief Fred Rayner, a day after he took a medical leave of absence, saying there needs to be confidence in the force's leadership.

The department is battling criticism over a drunk-driving sting that targeted a newspaper journalist, and the way it's been handled.

Commission chairman Martin Ignasiak – who believes he was also a target that night – said a new chief has been appointed, but the name won't be released until the decision is ratified by city council.

A special council meeting has been called for Thursday morning, but a decision may be delayed until Monday, when Mayor Stephen Mandel returns to work. He is observing a period of mourning for his mother, who died earlier this week.

"The police commission takes very seriously its role to ensure that there is a high level of public confidence in the Edmonton Police Service and its members," Ignasiak said, reading from a prepared statement. "Therefore, the Edmonton police commission, at a duly constituted meeting, terminated Fred Rayner's contract."

Ignasiak said he did not participate in the discussion or the vote, which was unanimous after a three-hour meeting.

Sources indicate that the commission has chosen Dave Cassels, a former Edmonton deputy chief and former chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, to take Rayner's place. He applied for the job last year, when Rayner was hired.

When Rayner went on leave Monday, he appointed Deputy Chief Darryl da Costa to fill in for him.

From Feb. 8, 2004: Embattled police chief goes on medical leave

Ignasiak said the financial details of Rayner's dismissal will be made public once they're settled.

The furor over the Nov. 18 incident had grown steadily since Rayner, who had been in the chief's job for less than a year, released the results of a review last week.

His handling of the case has been criticized because he cleared the seven officers on the stakeout of any wrongdoing – then transcripts of their radio conversations showed they were eager over the opportunity to arrest Edmonton Sun columnist Kerry Diotte.

Diotte and Ignasiak believe they were targets of a drinking and driving sting because of critical comments they'd made about the police service. They were attending a Canadian Association of Journalists event on Nov. 18, and said they weren't intoxicated and took cabs home.

After a review of the incident, Rayner said two seniors officers would be charged with discreditable conduct under the Police Act – one for his handling of the tip that Diotte was a risk to drink and drive and the other for sending out a news release a few days later.

The Edmonton Journal ran transcripts over the weekend from police radio calls that night, where the officers talked about where Diotte lives, how excited they would be to arrest him and the quality of his columns.

One officer says whomever arrests Diotte "will never have to pay for a drink as long as he lives." Another says he's getting sexually aroused at the prospect of arresting the columnist.

The majority of city council has called for a public inquiry into the sting and its investigation.

Ignasiak said the commission will discuss an inquiry with the new chief before any decisions are made; Solicitor General Harvey Cenaiko said he would consider calling one if the commission asked for it.