Ministry of Highways paid $61K to tactical company LGBTQ advocates say pushes 'dangerous rhetoric'
Saskatoon police officer who owns tactical company placed on leave in early June
Saskatchewan's Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure paid $61,000 to a company that made what advocates say are hateful and harmful posts on its social media accounts.
CBC News has learned the company, Agoge Tactical Regimen, was paid to train members of the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol in "Patrol Tactics" and is owned and operated by Jody Levesque, a 12-year-member of the Saskatoon Police Service.
In early June, Levesque was placed on administrative leave for making posts to his personal social media accounts the service said were "harmful and offensive" to Saskatoon's LGBTQ community. While the Saskatoon Police Service has not named the officer suspended, citing personnel and privacy reasons, a source confirmed his identity to CBC.
CBC News has reached out to Levesque on numerous occasions for comment about the posts and the training provided to members of the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol, but a response was not received.
In a post from his personal Instagram account, Levesque shared an image from the western movie Tombstone with the phrase "In a nation so divided I'm with the ones who carry firearms and know which bathroom to use."
Natasha King, co-chair of the Saskatoon Pride Diversity Network, who spoke with Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper about the posts on Levesque's personal accounts that resulted in him being placed on administrative leave, said the posts on the officer's Agoge Tactical business page — which were brought to her attention after the meeting with Cooper — are "as disgusting and disturbing as what we've already seen."
Bias on display: OUTSaskatoon
Posts made on the business's Instagram — which criticize the Tavor assault-style rifle, an Israeli-built rifle that is not included in the liberal government's list of prohibited firearms — are transphobic and homophobic, according to officials with OUTSaskatoon.
One of the posts shared from the Agoge Tactical Regimen Instagram account depicts what appears to be an uncomfortable woman standing in a crowd of leather-bound men sharing embraces, with the phrase: "When you show up for the carbine course and everyone else is using a Tavor."
Another post shared from the account depicts a scene from the 1988 movie They Live, where the protagonist finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world as it truly is. In the post the character sees a man with a Tavor rifle. In the next frame, while he is wearing the glasses, the man changes into character Daffyd Thomas, a gay man played by comedian Matt Lucas in the comedy series Little Britain.
OUTSaskatoon's acting director and housing and support service manager Krystal Nieckar said the posts are concerning.
"They're putting those out publicly to the world," said Nieckar. "So if they're comfortable putting those things out publicly to the world, the bias that the organization has, that the individual who had trained them has, what does that look going into training and in high-stress situations?"
Nieckar said she has concerns that what she feels is the bias Agoge has shown so publicly will seep into not only the training the organization provided to the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol, but also into the training that civilians and security firms have undergone with the company.
"People's bias, as he's publicly shown... that's how you view the world," she said. "When you're in a high-stress situation and you're responsible for training and shaping the way that other people view those situations, it's very concerning."
Government wouldn't have hired if it knew about posts
The Saskatchewan Highway Patrol (SHP) officially started service in July of 2018 and has been part of the province's Protection and Response Team (PRT), which is tasked with reducing rural crime. At the time the officers were training, the Ministry of Highways said the Saskatchewan Police College was unable to accommodate their needs.
After bringing the posts to the attention of the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, a statement from the ministry indicated it "would not have contracted with this company had we been aware that these comments had been made on social media."
"The Government of Saskatchewan does not support or condone remarks made that are considered harmful or hateful to any group or individual," the ministry said in the statement.
"SHP had a contractual agreement with Agoge to provide only one component of the extensive training required for the SHP to participate in the PRT. We have concluded this contract and no longer require their services."
However, some advocates for LGBTQ rights in Saskatoon say they want the officers trained by Agoge to be re-trained to ensure they're able to properly serve all of the people of Saskatchewan.
"For our government to hire a company that propagates this dangerous rhetoric is just appalling to me," said Fran Forsberg, a parent to two trans children and an advocate for LGBTQ rights in Saskatoon.
Government needs to do better job vetting: advocates
Forsberg, who was instrumental in policy changes that would allow people of all ages to change or remove the gender on their birth certificate, says that type of mentality has no place in the province's public service.
She especially has concerns about the fact these officers will be checking drivers' licenses where a gender marker is present and worries people who may have a marker on their licenses that doesn't match their gender identity will face disrespect and discrimination.
"They do need to be re-trained or reassessed about personal attitudes, because those are going to affect how they react to certain people in public," she said.
Both Forsberg and Nieckar feel the government should have done a better job vetting the company and its trainers before the contract was signed. Of the 37 officers trained by Agoge, 31 are still working with the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol.
The Ministry of Highways statement said that alongside the tactical training the officers received from Agoge, officers were also trained elsewhere separately in firearms use, Aboriginal awareness training, enhanced use of force and de-escalation training and how to deal with people who are experiencing issues with mental health.
"In addition, there is mandatory MHI training which examines diversity and inclusion including the concept of unconscious bias and everyone's role in contributing to an inclusive workplace," the Ministry of Highways noted. "Our officers are more than capable of respectfully serving citizens and that would include visible minorities as well as members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community."
Officer conduct — on or off duty — of interest to SPS
Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper said in a recent interview with CBC that while he cannot comment on Levesque specifically, as an investigation into his behaviour is ongoing, the SPS would take note if an officer is expressing problematic behaviour.
"If an officer was to behave in a way where they embarrassed the service or would impact our reputation, or if he acted in a way that placed him back on duty while he was away from the office, we still have an interest as his employer," he said.
"Regardless of whether any staff member is on-duty or off-duty, if their behaviour impacts us, we have a real interest in that and that's something we would consider reviewing and consider part of our expectations as the employer."
After images from Agoge Tactical Regimen accounts were shared with the Saskatoon Police Service, the force said in a statement it does have a social media policy in place that "sets out parameters in regard to posts made by our members in any capacity, including secondary employment."
"Chief Cooper has said the relationship between the gender and sexually diverse community is an incredibly important one for our service," the statement explained. "He intends to hear their concerns and take the appropriate action."
On Friday afternoon, Chief Cooper met with representatives from OUTSaskatoon and Saskatoon Pride in an effort to learn how the service can "can work to improve and build on our relationship."
The Saskatoon Police Association, which represents police officers in Saskatoon, said they won't be making comments on the investigation at this time.
The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure said that all officers from the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol will be trained at the Saskatchewan Police College moving forward.
SHP already facing critics
"The most recent intake of cadets received their training at SPC as well as any future candidates. Any re-certification will also be done at the police college," noted the Ministry statement.
This isn't the first time the Saskatchewan Highway Patrol has come under scrutiny.
A recent auditors report found the patrol made several "questionable purchases" including the purchase of a drone, suppressors (silencers), a shotgun and high-power rifle scope, along with various firearms and weapons not included in the Municipal Police Equipment Regulations.
"It was improper equipment we don't use and we don't need in the highway patrol," Highways Minister Greg Ottenbreit said.
The report also found employees were not following purchasing card rules and were 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."
CBC News requested to view the tender that was issued that resulted in Agoge Tactical Regimen receiving the contract for training, but the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure said in a statement the ministry contracted with Agoge directly, as there was "no other Saskatchewan-based companies that could accommodate this type of training in the province."
Robin Litzenberger, chief of the province's highway patrol, was fired as a result of some of the purchases. He has since filed a statement of claim, alleging wrongful dismissal, with the statement of claim saying he had a "unblemished work history."
The Government of Saskatchewan has filed a statement of defence in which it says Litzenberger failed to "model the behaviours of professionalism; utilize good judgment; conduct himself with honesty and uphold the core values and code of conduct expected of a senior manager in the public service."
The province is calling for the claim to be dismissed. A date for the matter to be discussed in court has yet to be set.