Does the Edmonton Police Service have a Stingray cellphone surveillance tool or not? Depends on what day of the week it is.
On Thursday afternoon, Edmonton police spokesperson Anna Batchelor sent me an email saying, "I'm able to confirm the Edmonton Police Service owns a Stingray device and has used the device in the past during investigations."
Batchelor was responding to a query I'd sent to police departments across the country: Do they own a Stingray device, or had they ever borrowed one from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? Batchelor's answer made Edmonton cops the first local force in Canada to admit to owning one of the controversial surveillance devices, which indiscriminately capture information from any cell phones within a multi-kilometre radius.
On Friday, I received a call from Superintendent Terry Rocchio of the Edmonton police, who delivered a frantic and conflicting message: the Edmonton police do not own a Stingray, he said, and Batchelor's confirmation was the result of internal miscommunications. He was very sorry for the misinformation, he said.
As for whether the police had ever used one of the RCMP's Stingrays, like police in Vancouver recently admitted to doing: no comment.
What does this mean? It's not clear, and the department refused to elaborate. Taking the department at its word, perhaps it means that Edmonton police merely borrowed an RCMP Stingray—for what and when, we don't know—rather than actually owning one, hence the mixup over ownership. Motherboard has filed records requests that will hopefully shine more light on the matter.
Here is the full statement I received from the Edmonton Police Service:
"Earlier this week, Media Relations Unit received an inquiry from Motherboard (VICE) asking if the [Edmonton Police Service] owns a Stingray device, or has ever used one from the RCMP. There was some miscommunication/misunderstanding internally surrounding the information obtained on whether the EPS owns a Stingray , and in fact, the EPS does not own a Stingray device. Police agencies do not comment on equipment used in electronic surveillance or on investigative techniques, therefore the EPS cannot provide any further information on this topic."
As stated in our article on the Edmonton police's original statement, we are also filing access to information requests with all of the departments we contacted, and in all honesty expected every single one of them to respond with "no comment" to our initial emailed questions. And they all did, except for Edmonton.
Thanks to some apparent internal mismanagement, Canada's police have managed to throw the public back into a murkier understanding of how widespread Stingray devices in Canada really are.