Calgary police chief on 'quest' to root out confidential media sources from his ranks

Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin says officers who act as confidential sources to reporters undermine the integrity of the service and he's working to root them out. But the family of Anthony Heffernan — who was shot dead by an officer in March 2015 — say they are "very thankful" for leaked information about the case.

Family of man killed by police 'thankful' for leaked information, calls quest a 'witch hunt'

Calgary police chief's quest a 'witch hunt,' says brother of man killed by officer

CBC News Calgary

5 years ago
Grant Heffernan says the chief should focus on why an officer still under investigation after a fatal shooting was given a gun and allowed back into the field — and not on trying to pinpoint who leaked that information to the media. 2:55

Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin says officers who act as confidential sources to reporters undermine the integrity of the service and he's working to root them out.

"That's part of my quest," he said in an interview Thursday. "I want to find out who."

Chaffin said that includes the person or persons who revealed to CBC News on a confidential basis that the officer involved in a fatal shooting in January was still being investigated for a previous fatal shooting last year.

But family of Anthony Heffernan — who was shot dead by that officer in March 2015 — say they are "very thankful" to whoever leaked that information.

Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin says confidential sources undermine the service but the family of Anthony Heffernan (right), who was shot dead by police last year, says they're grateful for the leak that revealed the same officer was also involved in a second fatal shooting in January. (CBC/Submitted)

A 'witch hunt,' says brother

Grant Heffernan said he only learned through the CBC report that the officer who shot his brother was also involved in the Jan. 25 death of Dave McQueen, a disabled man who began randomly shooting from his home into the northwest community of Huntington Hills before being killed by police.

"We want to know this information," Grant Heffernan said. "We have been in the dark with a lot of what's been going on with the investigation. There's a lot of things we don't know about and the Calgary police won't tell us. To us, this was important information."

Grant Heffernan called the quest a "witch hunt" and questioned the police chief's priorities.

"To me, I think the more important question for the chief of police is why did you allow this guy to go back to work when ASIRT was still investigating, and why did you allow him to go back into the field and give him a gun instead of maybe just putting him at a desk if you felt he was fit to go back to work?"

Anthony Heffernan's brother Grant says the family is grateful to the confidential sources within the police service. (CBC)

Anthony Heffernan was shot dead after officers broke into a northeast hotel room where he had been holed up and found him holding a syringe in what police described as a "high-risk situation."

The case was investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) and is currently before the Crown.

The Heffernan family believes a rare murder charge could be laid against the officer who shot Anthony multiple times.

'We have enough butt-holes in the media'

Paul Wozney, a director with the police union and editor of its members' magazine, titled 10-4, said in a recently published article that the chief was right to send a "strongly worded" memo warning officers about the consequences of leaking information to the media.

"Don't you think that the member you blabbed about, who responded to two extremely high risk calls and had to make split second decisions in the interests of their own personal safety and the safety of the community, has a right to feel safe with their own organization?" Wozney writes.

"It disgusts me that one of our own members (sworn or civilian) would choose to make such a selfish decision," he adds.

This issue of the Calgary Police Association magazine, titled 10-4, includes an introductory column from the new editor, Paul Wozney, chastising officers for acting as confidential sources to reporters. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Wozney questions what motivation an officer would even have for acting as a confidential source, since "the media sure doesn't pay for this information."

"If you are some sort of unhappy employee, then I suggest you leave the organization or join the fire department," he writes.

As the newly appointed editor of the magazine, Wozney also explains in the article that he won't allow the publication to be used for members to "throw stones" at one another.

"To be blunt, we have enough butt-holes in the media, the community, and on the defence-side of the bar taking shots at us. We don't need our own members taking shots at each other in our own magazine."

'I don't necessarily disagree with the article'

CBC News requested an interview with Wozney but Calgary Police Association president Howard Burns opted to speak for the union.

Burns stood by Wozney's article, although he said he may not have used the exact same words if he had written it.

"I don't necessarily disagree with the article," Burns said. "You have to appreciate that this magazine is meant for the 2,100 members of the Calgary Police Association. So, it's not really meant for public distribution, although it's fine for it to be in the public eye."

You have to appreciate that this magazine is meant for the 2,100 members of the Calgary Police Association.- Calgary Police Association president Howard Burns

Officers who believe information needs to be made public can go through either the Calgary Police Service media relations team or the union, Burns noted, and if they feel uncomfortable doing so, they can use the City of Calgary's confidential whistle-blower program to report alleged wrongdoing.

Members who leak information to the media without authorization could be disciplined and face termination, he added.

Burns doubts the leak in the Heffernan case, however, would compromise any investigation.

"I think in that particular case, that investigation, my understanding is it's been concluded and is before the Crown in Edmonton," he said.

"So I don't think it's going to interfere but it certainly can be confusing for the public when they hear mixed messages and they start to hear about confidential sources. It's probably not the appropriate way to do business."

'The public should know what's happening'

Patrick Heffernan, Anthony's father, was disappointed by the article in the police union's magazine.

"The police, they should be open. The public should know what's happening," he said.

"This notion that they are to protect each other … rather than necessarily having the truth out … I think that's totally wrong."

He noted the family still doesn't even know the names of the officers involved in his son's shooting death, and he doesn't believe the investigation into the incident has been particularly transparent.

Other cases of confidential sources

​Chaffin said there is a protocol to the investigative process into police shootings and for releasing information to the media, but his concern with leaks goes beyond just the Heffernan case.

There are numerous other recent examples in which confidential sources have been used to report information publicly, he noted.

"When it gets released without proper attention to details and policy, it puts people at risk," the chief said. "It puts the reputation of policing at risk, and it can really harm the work we do and the members and the organization."

Calgary police have adopted a much more open policy when it comes to speaking with reporters than in the recent past, Chaffin added, but there is a process to follow in order to ensure the information is communicated with the proper "rigour."

"We do have a very open policy and a very transparent way to talk to media around here, generally speaking," he said.

"But when it involves operational issues or personnel discipline issues that are within the organization, there are things that we want to have some controls over."

With files from Bryan Labby and CBC News Calgary


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