Sask. Highway Patrol chief was fired for purchase of silencers, drones, high-power rifle scope
Minister of Highways says $140,000 of firearms cannot be used by Highway Patrol
Saskatchewan's Ministry of Highways said Robin Litzenberger, the chief of the province's highway patrol, was fired for purchasing silencers, a drone and a high-power rifle scope.
"It was improper equipment we don't use and we don't need in the highway patrol," Highways Minister Greg Ottenbreit said Thursday.
Ottenbreit referred to an incident where the chief was told not to buy a shotgun and did so anyway.
"It is a blatant disregard for authority."
On Tuesday, Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson released Volume 1 of her annual report. It found the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol (SHP) made "questionable purchases." Ferguson said an employee was dismissed after investigations.
Ferguson's report did not identify the fired employee, but on Thursday Ottenbreit confirmed it was the former chief.
"He was responsible for all of the purchases," Ottenbreit said.
The ministry then confirmed Friday that Litzenberger was the chief in question.
The SHP was created in July 2018 and has been part of the province's Protection and Response Team (PRT), which is tasked with reducing rural crime.
Ottenbreit said the government had a third-party review done when the SHP became part of the PRT. He said that review found "inconsistencies."
He said the auditor was asked to conduct a review that found problems with how and what equipment was being purchased.
Ottenbreit said $560,000 of the purchases — things like body armour and cameras — were deemed usable. He said $140,000 of the purchased equipment cannot be used by the SHP and will be "locked up and liquidated to proper law agencies."
He said the government will recover the costs of the unusable equipment.
Ottenbreit said he could not comment on an ongoing human resources matter, but that the government does not have to pay severance.
He expressed confidence in the SHP.
"I'm very confident in the leadership we have at the highway patrol now. I know that morale is very good."
Investigation triggered by employee complaints
After complaints by employees, the ministry started investigating purchases made between September 2017 and August 2019.
In her report, Ferguson said the Ministry of Highways found itself the owner of various weaponry that is 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).
"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," Ferguson said in the report.
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 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.
Before Ferguson was tapped to do an audit, the ministry hired two outside consultants to conduct investigations.
The first review caught the purchase of the firearms and equipment the SHP was not supposed to buy.
A second review caught problems with the way purchases were made.
"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," said Ministry of Highways spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi on Tuesday.
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 to "get under the threshold which competitive procurement process needs to be followed."
CBC News requested the consultant investigations from the Ministry of Highways. The ministry said that information could not be provided because the matter is "before the courts."