Police toughen promotion policy after scandal involving former chief's son

The policy change comes after a CBC News story created public outrage over the promotion of Mike Wasylyshen to sergeant, despite his record for a drunken off-duty assault of a man on crutches and for repeatedly tasering a passed-out aboriginal teenager.

Mike Wasylyshen promoted despite criminal and internal disciplinary record

Edmonton police officer Mike Wasylyshen was promoted last year despite having a criminal record for the drunken, off-duty assault of a man on crutches and a disciplinary suspension for using a Taser on a passed-out aboriginal youth. (CBC)

The Edmonton Police Service has made it more difficult for officers with criminal and internal disciplinary convictions to be promoted.

The policy change comes after a CBC News story created public outrage over the promotion of Mike Wasylyshen to sergeant, despite his record for a drunken off-duty assault of a man on crutches and for repeatedly using a Taser stun gun on a passed-out aboriginal teenager.

"Now, (Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht) has got a broad mandate to refuse promotions and in particular, a promotion that might reasonably affect the public confidence in the Edmonton Police Service," said Edmonton lawyer Tom Engel, who filed a formal complaint against the Wasylyshen promotion on behalf of a group of concerned citizens.

"If (Knecht) had this policy before, I daresay he would not have promoted Mike Wasylyshen."

The new policy effectively bars EPS officers found guilty of a federal offence or of deceit under the Police Act from being eligible for a promotion for five years.

The new broadened policy also may exclude officers from promotion if they face outstanding criminal charges, have been found guilty of other Police Act violations, or "any other matter that may reasonably affect public confidence in the Edmonton Police Service."

Under the old policy, the promotion of officers could only be delayed by two years after an external or internal conviction, and even that was discretionary.

"We now feel more confident that future promotion of officers will be only possible for those without outstanding criminal and Police Act misconduct charges or recent convictions and most importantly, for those whose promotion would not 'reasonably affect public confidence in the Edmonton Police Service,' " said Taz Bouchier, an elder with the Centre of Indigenous Spiritual Preservation & Inclusion.

Bouchier was one of the organizers of public protests in Edmonton after CBC News revealed Wasylyshen's promotion in December 2014.

Tasered passed-out teen

In January 2015 Engel, on behalf of Bouchier and other concerned citizens, filed a formal complaint with the EPS seeking to overturn Wasylyshen's promotion.

In 2002, Wasylyshen had Tasered 16-year-old Randy Fryingpan eight times in 68 seconds while the native teen was passed out drunk in a car.

In 2005, a judge ruled Wasylyshen used excessive force in the criminal case against the native teenager. The judge called use of the Taser "cruel and unusual punishment" that amounted to a breach of the teen's charter rights.

Wasylyshen, however, did not face an internal disciplinary hearing until 2012. The presiding officer said he wasn't convinced the officer was either remorseful or accepted his decision. He called Wasylyshen's use of excessive force "offensive" and an "embarrassment to policing."

But he also said Wasylyshen had matured over the past decade and had made attempts to rehabilitate himself. He was suspended for 120 hours for insubordination and using excessive force.

In 2010, CBC News revealed a "heavily intoxicated" Wasylyshen, while off duty, had attacked a man on crutches. Wasylyshen later punched a security guard from a nearby corner store who intervened in the melee and repeatedly threatened to kill the man on crutches and the security guard.

Assaulted man on crutches

Wasylyshen plead guilty to two counts of assault in April 2009. A charge of uttering threats was dropped by the Crown. A judge fined him $500 and refused a defence request for a suspended record, leaving Wasylyshen with a criminal record.

Bouchier, in her statement, said Wasylyshen's criminal record and his internal misconduct were public knowledge when he was promoted to sergeant.

"It appeared to the public that police brutality and criminal conduct was being rewarded instead of being denounced and punished," she said.  

But she said "we now understand how (Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht's) hands were tied" under the old promotion policy.  She said the complainants are no longer seeking to overturn Wasylyshen's promotion.

Edmonton Police Association president Maurice Brodeur said the association has no issue with the new policy as long as it is applied consistently and does not affect cases that pre-date the policy's announcement.

"So in other words, once it has been passed, everything going forward from the moment that new policy passes, then that applies, everybody sees that, and knows the rules," Brodeur said. "But anything that happened prior to this should still be under the old rules."

Brodeur said there has already been a case where an officer, who plead guilty previously, to a minor charge involving improper storage of a firearm in a police station was denied an opportunity to seek a promotion.

He said if the officer had known it could affect his future for promotion, he might have opted to fight the charge.

"This one concerns me that they grandfathered it on this individual," he said. "I don't think that is fair. I think the rules of the day should apply."