Edmonton

Edmonton police chief justified in suspending whistleblower detective without pay, police commission rules

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee was justified in suspending a detective without pay after the officer leaked confidential investigative documents to CBC News, the Edmonton Police Commission has found in a written ruling.

Det. Dan Behiels relieved of duty after handing highly sensitive documents to CBC reporter

Edmonton Police Service Det. Dan Behiels has been suspended from duty without pay since February 2021. (Amber Bracken)

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee was justified in suspending a detective without pay after the officer leaked confidential investigative documents to CBC News, the Edmonton Police Commission has found in a written ruling.

Det. Dan Behiels leaked information to CBC after spending three years investigating a suspected criminal organization that police suspected was run by notorious Edmonton landlord Abdullah Shah.

In January 2021, when the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) investigation known as Project Fisk concluded without any charges, a frustrated Behiels gave a thumb drive containing highly sensitive documents to CBC reporter Janice Johnston.

Two days later, Behiels confessed his actions in an emailed report to McFee, who placed him on administrative leave that February. In November 2021, Behiels was relieved from duty without pay, a decision he later appealed.

In a written decision issued Jan. 24 following a closed-door hearing in December, police commission chair John McDougall upheld the chief's decision to relieve Behiels from duty without pay, citing exceptional circumstances in the case.

"It is indisputable that the public interest and reputation of the EPS may reasonably suffer, and a loss of public confidence in the EPS may reasonably occur, if Det. Behiels is not relieved from duty without pay in relation to this alleged misconduct," McDougall wrote.

The thumb drive Behiels provided to CBC contained 64 gigabytes of documents detailing various EPS investigations.

Behiels alleged that there was corruption in the upper ranks of the police service but the investigations that followed found no evidence of wrongdoing within EPS.

Additionally, Shah never faced any charges in relation to the investigation and his legal counsel has vehemently denied any criminal wrongdoing, describing Project Fisk as a witch hunt.

Internal investigation ongoing

Behiels remains under internal investigation by the EPS professional standards branch. He faces possible disciplinary charges of insubordination, breach of trust and discreditable conduct.

In an email to CBC News, an EPS spokesperson said Behiels remains off the job and that the internal investigation is ongoing. The spokesperson declined to provide further comment on the ruling.

Behiels declined to comment, citing the restrictions of his suspension. But CBC News has received a statement from his wife, Jay Behiels, who said the detective stands by his allegations.

McFee's written decision to suspend Behiels was included in the commission's decision as background. In it, McFee wrote that the detective had put police informants at serious risk and compromised future investigations by revealing EPS investigative techniques.

McFee wrote that after he was suspended, Behiels disparaged the force on social media and continued to co-operate with CBC, damaging the reputation of the police service and undermining its authority.

'A serious breach'

The police commission upheld the chief's authority to suspend Behiels. McDougall's decision hinges on a regulation in the Police Act which gives a police chief the authority to relieve an officer from duty if there are "exceptional circumstances" surrounding alleged misconduct.

The chief was reasonable to conclude that exceptional circumstances existed in the case, and was justified in relieving Behiels from duty, McDougall wrote. 

He wrote that the leak put public safety at risk by threatening to erode public confidence in the police service and potentially exposing highly sensitive information about police informants.

In November 2021, Behiels was relieved from duty without pay, a decision he later appealed. (Amber Bracken)

Throughout the commission investigation, Behiels maintained that he vetted the leaked files to ensure no identifying details on informants were included, McDougall wrote.

The leak, however, was a clear violation of Behiels's duty as a police officer, McDougall wrote.

McDougall found "strong evidence" that highly sensitive EPS files containing source information were released to the media without oversight, and without formal approval from any law enforcement authority.

"Maintaining the confidentiality of police records is essential for many reasons, including preserving investigative integrity and protecting personal and sensitive information," he wrote. 

McDougall described it as one of the most significant breaches of confidentiality a police officer could commit.

"The removal of extensive amounts of confidential police files from the property of the police service without supervisor approval or oversight is a serious breach of a police officer's duty to safeguard such materials, one that is aggravated by the sharing of this confidential file information with members of the media," he wrote.

McDougall also said Behiels continued to be "actively engaged" on social media following his suspension, posts that constituted "ongoing and persistent" contraventions of EPS's social media policies.

'Administrative measure' 

In the decision, McDougall wrote that the suspension was not intended as a punishment, but was an "administrative measure" designed to maintain discipline within the police force,  protect public confidence in the service and minimize the risk to the public. 

"The appropriate discipline to be applied in respect of any misconduct which is ultimately proven has yet to take place," McDougall wrote, noting the ongoing internal EPS investigation.

"Public safety is a very real concern in this case and it was clearly a significant consideration for the chief of police."

Behiels has said that he leaked the documents because he was frustrated about a lack of charges in the case.

Just because Det. Behiels disagreed with the outcome of those investigations does not mean that he could subsequently take whatever action he deemed necessary without consequence.- Police commission decision

Behiels formally raised his concerns twice with McFee, first in March 2019 and again in January 2021, after he had leaked the information to CBC.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the province's police watchdog, conducted a preliminary investigation into the allegations in Behiels's 2019 report to McFee and determined they were not criminal.

Edmonton police then asked the Calgary Police Service to conduct a criminal investigation. That probe concluded in June 2021 after finding no evidence of corruption within the Edmonton force or its members.

In his decision, McDougall admonished Behiels for the leak and said he should have continued to follow proper channels to pursue his allegations.

"Det. Behiels appears to believe that he had no choice other than to do what he did. However, there were appropriate avenues in which to address his concerns, which he initially followed.

"Just because Det. Behiels disagreed with the outcome of those investigations does not mean that he could subsequently take whatever action he deemed necessary without consequence."

Jay Behiels said the leak has cost Behiels his income, his career, and many friendships, and the ongoing investigation has left her family in financial limbo.

She said Behiels has no regrets about leaking the documents.

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