Saskatchewan

Sask. highway patrol's 'questionable purchases' included drone, silencers, high-power rifle scope: auditor

Saskatchewan's Auditor says the Ministry of Highways owns firearms and equipment its highway patrol is not allowed to use on duty and she says the patrol has made "questionable purchases."

Highways Ministry employee terminated over purchasing 'irregularities'

Saskatchewan's auditor said the province's highway patrol has made "questionable purchases" of firearms and equipment. (Government of Saskatchewan)

Saskatchewan's Auditor says the Ministry of Highways owns firearms and equipment its highway patrol is not allowed to use on duty and she says the patrol has made "questionable purchases."

Judy Ferguson released Volume 1 of her annual report on Tuesday. It contains a review of the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure's purchases of highway patrol equipment and supplies.

The ministry did not document a business need to buy certain types of firearms and weapons given the Highway Patrol's role as a first responder in emergency situations.- Auditor's report

The Saskatchewan Highway Patrol (SHP) was created in July of 2018 and has been part of the province's Protection and Response Team (PRT) , which is tasked with reducing rural crime.

The report found that since SHP's inception, the government has spent $700,000 to supply it with firearms, ammunition and protective equipment.

Following complaints by employees, the ministry started investigating purchases made between September 2017 and August 2019.

In the end, one Highways Ministry employee had their employment terminated.

Silencers, fully automatic rifles among guns purchased

In her report. Ferguson says the Highways Ministry found itself the owner of various firearms and other weapons that are not included in The Municipal Police Equipment Regulations.

The items include:

  • Three nine-millimetre pistols.
  • Two fully automatic rifles.
  • One AR-10 carbine.
  • 12 suppressors (silencers).

Ferguson said in the report "the ministry advises us legislation allows (it) to possess these firearms and weapons for training purposes even though it cannot use them in its highway patrol duties."

The auditor's investigation found the SHP was using purchasing cards to make "questionable purchases that did not have sufficient support to demonstrate business need or alignment with the Ministry's first responder responsibilities."

The purchases included: 

  • Certain firearms and ammunition.
  • Suppressors (silencers).
  • Drug test kits.
  • A drone.
  • A high power rifle scope.

The report also says the deputy minister "specifically directed staff not to purchase any shotguns", but somebody bought one anyway.

"The ministry did not document a business need to buy certain types of firearms and weapons given the Highway Patrol's role as a first responder in emergency situations," the report said.

Ferguson recommended the ministry "implement policies to better oversee purchases of regulated firearms and ammunition to ensure they support its business needs."

Purchasing card complaints lead to employee dismissal

The auditor's report found the Ministry of Highways, "did not sufficiently monitor whether staff of the Highway Patrol consistently follow policies for purchases using purchase cards."

Last year, the Ministry of Highways investigated complaints about purchasing by the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol. It hired consultants to look into the allegations.

"The consultant we engaged found some purchases of equipment that were deemed questionable as to whether or not the highway patrol actually need them to fulfil their mandate or not," said Ministry of Highways spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi on Tuesday.

Wakabayashi said another consultant was brought in to review the purchasing process.

"We found some instances where some of the rules related to purchase cards transactions were not followed and in the course subsequent to that review we referred the matter to the provincial Auditor's office and the employee involved was subsequently terminated."

Wakabayashi said the investigation found the employee was splitting transactions to avoid hitting the maximum $10,000 per transaction that can go on a card and splitting to "get under the threshold which competitive procurement process needs to be followed."

He said equipment purchased was used for training purposes, is under lock and key and "no financial impropriety" took place.

The auditor reviewed 34 purchases by the SHP and found 26 instances that contravened its policy where "someone other than the purchase card holder's immediate supervisor approved the transaction and/or monthly statement."

It also found four instances where the monthly statement of the SHP purchase card purchases "did not have any approval signatures."

The report says following a review of the completed investigations, the ministry terminated the employment of one employee. The employee wasn't named in the report.

Equipment not properly tracked: auditor

Ferguson's report also recommended the SHP create a better system for tracking SHP equipment.

She said the SHP was keeping a spreadsheet of who had what equipment but an investigation by the ministry last summer found "a number of inaccuracies in the spreadsheet."

"The sensitive and portable nature of regulated Highway Patrol equipment (e.g., firearms, ammunition) increases the importance of keeping track of them and their use. Without processes such as periodic inventory checks or counts, and restricting who can make changes to equipment tracking records, the Ministry risks being held liable for misplaced or lost items used for inappropriate purposes," the report said.

As of June 2018, 40 former vehicle enforcement officers were transitioned to work under the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol banner. The officers were trained and began carrying firearms and taking on expanded duties, including:

  • Responding to 911 calls.
  • Investigating impaired drivers.
  • Enforcing speed limits.
  • Responding to accidents.
  • Inspecting the welfare of livestock being transported.

In 2019, the Ministry of Highways asked companies to bid on a centralized training centre for the SHP, where officers could be trained on firearms and in hand-to-hand combat. 

As of December 2019, no officers had been shot at or fired a shot since the creation of the SHP..

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 13 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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