Edmonton

Environment minister 'misspoke' about RCMP investigations into Bighorn harassment

Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips “misspoke” when she said the RCMP had open investigations with file numbers in relation to the contentious Bighorn Country parks consultation.

UCP calls on Phillips to resign from cabinet

Public safety concerns prompted Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to cancel open houses on the Bighorn parks proposal scheduled for Sundre, Red Deer, Drayton Valley and Edmonton. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips says she "misspoke" when she said the RCMP had open investigations with file numbers in relation to the contentious Bighorn Country parks consultations.

"Earlier today, I misspoke in a media interview regarding the work of the RCMP," Phillips posted on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.  "I am aware of two complaints to RCMP that resulted in file numbers. As the RCMP confirmed today, they have received concerns from the public and do not currently have any open investigations."

On Saturday, Phillips said harassment, bullying and intimidation of supporters prompted the government to cancel open houses on the proposal to create three provincial parks, a wildland park and four provincial recreation areas in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains west of Nordegg.

The government held two sessions in Rocky Mountain House before Christmas. There were plans to hold open houses in Red Deer, Sundre, Drayton Valley and Edmonton this month but the government decided to cancel them in the interest of public safety and hold telephone town halls instead.

In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, Phillips said the RCMP were investigating at least two complaints.

"I know that there are at least two open investigation —open files — with file investigation numbers, with respect to allegations of safety concerns for the public in and around, in central Alberta," she said.

The Alberta government wants to protect the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains near Nordegg. (Government of Alberta )

When questioned by a reporter several minutes later about how the RCMP said they were unaware of any investigations, Phillips said the RCMP corrected the record on Tuesday.

"I am aware of at least two open files with investigation numbers," she said. 

Philips added there were nine additional documented incidents, "a couple of them serious," involving harassment of seven government employees. 

Phillips declined to share details of these incidents. She did not know if they were reported to the police. Phillips said a venue wanted to cancel a town hall due to harassment. 

Alberta RCMP can confirm that we do not have any ongoing investigations relating to the consultations.-  Fraser Logan, RCMP spokesperson

CBC News followed up with the RCMP after the minister's teleconference asking about the two investigations.

"We can confirm we have been contacted by some members of the public who wanted the police to be aware of some concerning social media interactions around the Bighorn public consultation," RCMP spokesperson Fraser Logan wrote.

"Alberta RCMP can confirm that we do not have any ongoing investigations relating to the consultations."

When asked whether it was possible the investigations were conducted and concluded, Logan responded: "Only in the event that an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges, would the RCMP confirm its investigation, the nature of the charges laid and the identity of the individual(s) involved."

UCP calls for Phillips to resign 

The Official Opposition United Conservative Party is calling on Phillips to resign from cabinet. The party says the minister lied twice this week about the Bighorn file. 

On the weekend Phillips said advice from the RCMP and security officials, along with reports of harassment, prompted the government to cancel the open houses. Fraser Logan of the RCMP said the police service did not provide any official advice. 

UCP justice critic Mike Ellis held a news conference in Calgary on Wednesday to criticize Phillips's use of the RCMP. 

"Sadly, this minister chose to politicize our law enforcement, mislead Albertans, and slandered countless concerned Albertans as behaving in a way that warranted exceptional RCMP intervention," he said in a statement.

"Through the minister's actions and statements, she has cast aspersions between Albertans who are affected by the Bighorn plan and the RCMP that serves the area."

The government is holding telephone town halls over the next two weeks to replace the cancelled open houses. 

If the government is assured public safety can be restored, Phillips says the open houses may be rescheduled.