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Canadian Police Chief Warns His Cops to Stop Snitching to the Press

Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin's warning comes after someone leaked to the CBC that a cop who fatally shot a man last year in the Alberta metropolis was also one of three cops involved in the death of another man this January.

by Tamara Khandaker
Apr 1 2016, 8:20pm

Photo by Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The police chief of Canadian city is on a mission to find officers who leak information to journalists, after one source revealed that a cop who fatally shot a man last year in Calgary was also one of three officers involved in the death of another man this January.

Chief Roger Chaffin has sent out a memo to members of the force, warning them to stop acting as confidential sources for reporters.

In a statement released Friday, Chaffin said a number of incidents had prompted him to write the memo.

He said that while he has a "huge amount of respect for the media" and acknowledged its role in helping with police investigations, he cannot risk having individual members jeopardize active investigations and breach legislation.

The incidents involve leaked operational plans that could have put members in danger, "hold back details" about investigations, details about undercover operations, and suspects. In all cases, the investigations were still active, Chaffin wrote.

Related: It's Impossible To Find Out Exactly How Many People Are Shot By Cops in Canada

While his memo didn't directly address the Haffernan case, Chaffin told the CBC that part of his "quest" was to find out who told the state broadcaster that an officer, whose name is not being released, involved in the death of Dave McQueen was also being investigated for the shooting of Anthony Haffernan in March of last year.

McQueen was a disabled man who, according to Chaffin, was shooting "indiscriminately" for over an hour from his home into the community of Huntington Hills before being killed by police in January. One bullet nearly hit a Calgary Transit bus driver.

Haffernan was fatally shot multiple times in a hotel room after officers, who called it a "high-risk situation," found him holding a syringe. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigated the case, reportedly told his family that they'd be recommending that murder charges be laid against the officer in question.

"That is the only way we knew, and if a source in the Calgary police wants to talk to the media, they should be able to do that," Anthony's brother Grant Heffernan, who learned of the officer's involvement in a second shooting from a CBC story, told VICE News. "They basically said there's going to be a witch hunt for the guy who came out to the reporter."

"We're very grateful this guy did come out and had the courage to stand up for us," he continued, adding that it wasn't the Calgary police who alerted the family that the officer was back to work, but CBC reporter Meaghan Grant.

"They basically lied to us," he said.

The provincial response team is the body responsible for investigating police shootings and does not take complaints from the public. In the eight years since its inception, between 2008 and March 31, 2015, ASIRT has fielded 273 investigations. Nearly a quarter of the investigations pertained to the death of an individual, while the remainder looked into incidences of serious injury or were deemed "sensitive investigations." Only 6 percent of ASIRT investigations resulted in criminal charges being laid against an officer.

Chaffin's memo was also supported by Paul Wozney, a director of the police union, in the union members' magazine.

"Don't you think that the member you blabbed about, who responded to two extremely high risk calls and had to make split second decisions in the interests of their own personal safety and the safety of the community, has a right to feel safe with their own organization?" Wozney wrote, according to the CBC.

'We have been in the dark with a lot of what's been going on with the investigation.'

"It disgusts me that one of our own members (sworn or civilian) would choose to make such a selfish decision," he continued.

In Canada, federal law offers blanket protection for whistleblowers who report illegal or problematic behaviour, but only if they report the wrongdoing to a law enforcement official. No workplace protections exist for those who leak information to media. Previous media leaks have resulted in criminal investigations and prosecution, both against journalists — who also have no blanket legal privilege for their sources — and the whistleblower.

Wozney went on to tell members if they were "sort of unhappy employee," they should "leave the organization of join the fire department," and that there were "enough butt-holes in the media, the community, and on the defence-side of the bars" taking shots at the police.

Haffernan said he was shocked to read about Wozney's article.

"What kind of language is that if you're in charge? How can you use that kind of language in a respectable position? It's unbelievable to me," he said.

The union's president Howard Burns, who pointed out that the magazine wasn't meant for public consumption and is written for members of the union, told the CBC that officers who want to make information public should go through the force's media relations team, the union, or the city's whistleblower program.

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk