Canada

Edmonton officer reprimanded for checking up on newspaper columnist

A senior Edmonton police officer has been issued a letter of reprimand after a disciplinary hearing found him guilty of using a police computer to find information on a newspaper columnist.

A senior Edmonton police officer has been issued a letter of reprimand after a disciplinary hearing found him guilty of using a police computer to find information on a newspaper columnist.

Staff Sgt. Bill Newton, head of the traffic unit, was found not guilty on a charge of discreditable conduct. Newton was alleged to have ordered a 2004 sting targeting Edmonton Sun columnist Kerry Diotte and the former chairman of the police commission.

The reprimand for the insubordination – looking Diotte up on the police computer system – will stay on his file for five years.

RCMP assistant Commissioner Ian Atkins, who presided over Newton's hearing, called it a technical breach of the rules and not a deliberate defiance. He recommended the Edmonton Police Service clarify its rules on when officers should run computer checks on an individual.

Diotte and Martin Ignasiak, who stepped down as chair of the police commission in March for unrelated reasons, had been attending a Canadian Association of Journalists event Nov. 18, 2004, at the Overtime bar when police said they received a tip that Diotte was a risk to drink and drive.

Five officers staked out the bar, with two undercover officers inside to keep an eye on him.

Diotte – who had written columns critical of the traffic unit – and Ignasiak later left the bar separately, in cabs.

A reporter heard officers talking about Diotte on the police radio and police then launched an investigation, leading to two senior officers – one being Newton – being charged with discreditable conduct. Atkins, who presided over Newton's hearing, said the stakeout was an inappropriate use of police resources.

"As a senior police manager, I would not have authorized such an elaborate expenditure of scarce patrol resources to such activity," Atkins said. "In fact, I would expect a reasonably informed member of the public would be outraged at such use."

Newton said Atkins' ruling – which he termed fair and even-handed – would help the police service deal with police access-to-information questions.

"We need to have firmer boundaries around our access to information and what we do with that information at the end of the day," he said.

Newton said Diotte wasn't targeted, but that he told his officers that the columnist may be drinking and driving and if they saw him, they should take a look at him.