2 Lethbridge police officers demoted for their roles in 'MemeGate'

Sanctions were handed out on Tuesday against two Lethbridge Police Service officers who tendered guilty pleas to some Alberta Police Act charges earlier this month.

Hearing for Const. David Easter and Const. Matt Rilkoff was moved up last week

Lethbridge police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh suspended five officers accused of distributing offensive memes earlier this year. Two of those officers saw sanctions rendered on Tuesday. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press)

Two police officers in Lethbridge, Alta., have been demoted for their roles in what has become known as "MemeGate."

The sanctions were handed down Tuesday afternoon at Lethbridge's Galt Museum in a hearing that was a continuation of an ongoing disciplinary action.

Const. Matthew Rilkoff and Const. David Easter of the Lethbridge Police Service initially pleaded guilty on Nov. 2, along with Sgt. Jason Moulton.

Rilkoff and Easter will be demoted for a period of one year, which translates into a financial hit of about $15,000 each over the course of that year.

The guilty pleas took place eight months after all three officers, and two others who plan to resign, were suspended following accusations of distributing inappropriate images.

The officers faced a total of 32 misconduct charges for allegedly distributing the offensive memes — some of which were disrespectful to the force's leadership while others had racial or sexist undertones, according to sources who viewed the images.

The sanctions for Rilkoff and Easter were originally scheduled to be handed out on Dec. 16. Moulton's hearing has been rescheduled for Jan. 10. 

Const. Keon Woronuk and Const. Derek Riddell previously had their cases adjourned until Feb. 3, 2022, when they are expected to hand in their resignations.

The LPS said it was unable to provide additional comment due to the ongoing process of the hearings.

Memes on work-issued phones

Sources previously told CBC News that some of the memes were posted on work-issued phones while officers were on duty. CBC News has not viewed the images but some have been described by those who have.

Some of the memes involved the faces of Rob Davis, who was chief at the time, and Deputy Chief Scott Woods pasted onto images, including some from the Toy Story series of films.

The police service has found itself involved in a number of scandals in recent years.

Earlier this year, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu ordered Lethbridge police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh to produce a plan to shape up the force.

Another controversy involved the discovery that employees allegedly used police databases to conduct unauthorized searches of Shannon Phillips' personal information, who was an NDP cabinet minister at the time.

Last week, Lethbridge's police commission rejected a call for a public inquiry into allegations that members of the service threatened retaliation against Phillips and CBC reporter Meghan Grant for exposing misconduct in the force.

Rob vanSpronsen, the chair of the commission, wrote in a statement that the circumstances around the request were "problematic."

    With files from Meghan Grant


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