Saskatchewan

Definition of 'probationary' officer under scrutiny in case of fired Moose Jaw cop

A veteran Moose Jaw police officer fired last year after allegations of misconduct has appealed his termination, but the lawyer for the police service says that under the Saskatchewan Police Act an appeal should not be allowed.

Veteran officer Alan Murdock was on professional probation when fired from MJ police service

Alan Murdock was fired by the Moose Jaw Police Service after internal and external investigations were conducted into allegations of misconduct. Murdock is trying to appeal that decision. (Moose Jaw Police Service)

A veteran Moose Jaw police officer fired last year after allegations of misconduct has appealed his termination, but the lawyer for the police service says that under the Saskatchewan Police Act an appeal should not be allowed as the officer was on professional probation when he was fired.

A debate over the definition of a "probationary" officer ensued Tuesday morning during a public police disciplinary hearing done by telephone.

Alan Murdock was fired in June 2019 after close to 30 years as a police officer.

At the time, the service said he was fired in accordance with the Police Act after allegations of misconduct and multiple investigations. No further information has been released about the allegations. 

Murdock appealed the decision to the Saskatchewan Police Commission. 

Destiny Gibney, a lawyer for the for the Moose Jaw Police Service, made a case that the appeal should not proceed because of the Saskatchewan Police Act. Gibney said "probationary members" are not allowed to appeal such firings. 

Murdock said that although he was on probation at the time, the definition doesn't apply to him. 

Lawyer Jay Watson, who is overseeing the hearing, needs to decide what "probationary member" actually means in the context of the Police Act. 

If Watson finds Murdock's case fits the definition of being a "probationary officer" then the appeal cannot go forward. 

Gibney says that the act makes it clear: appeal provisions don't apply to probationary members. ​

Watson questioned whether the language applied to someone with decades of service who is on probation, or if it simply referred to a new officer put on a set period of probation where they could be dismissed "basically at will."  

All parties agreed the matter appears to be unprecedented. 

Murdock insisted there is a distinction between a probationary member and a member placed on probation. 

"In my view, there is a very significant and clear distinction and the discipline used to handle each is vastly different," he said.

"I agreed to probation on May 22 [2019], signed a discipline order. I did not agree to dismissal 28 days later," he said.

Murdock said he worked seven shifts during that 28 day period. 

He said it's an unfair situation, suggesting that a "mere allegation" had been used to effectively end his career and ruin his reputation in the community.  

"They're accusing me of breaching the probation, well I can tell you there's going to be a judicial review on another matter where that was proven to be false," he said. 

Gibney said it was not just an allegation without substance that led to termination, because it had to have been probed. 

"A member must agree to be put on probation or it has to be determined by a hearing officer," Gibney said.

She said there was "undisputed evidence" that there was misconduct or reason for the police chief to determine misconduct. Watson noted there had been no cross-examination and the evidence had not been laid out. 

Gibney said legislation must come first and asked Watson to provide clarity. 

Watson reserved the matter until April 21, when he is expected to come back with an interpretation of what it means to be a "probationary member" in the context of the Police Act.