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Calgary Police

Police officer admits link to website
Constable refuses to ID any others

< < < Background to story

A Calgary constable has come forward claiming to be the sole police officer behind a high-profile website that criticized the force and its chief -- and is willing to lose his job with the admission.

Taufiq Shah, Rhonda Shaw

Constable Taufiq Shah, with wife Rhonda, claims to be the sole police officer behind a controversial website
CREDIT: Grant Black, Calgary Herald

Constable Taufiq Shah also admits he deleted e-mails and information on the now-defunct site that would have implicated other officers' involvement.

"I expect to get hammered now. I'm not going to hide," Shah said Monday afternoon. "I'm glad a lot of it is off my shoulders."

Shah acknowledges his role in the site, which first appeared last fall, was bound to come out sooner or later.

Last week, it was revealed police Chief Jack Beaton had settled a lawsuit against two people -- Jann Vahey and her husband, Rene Fisher -- over their participation in the website that attacked his leadership.

As part of the settlement, the pair, who admitted to uploading information to the site, agreed to pay $5,000 toward Beaton's legal bills.

The couple is also required to disclose others involved in the websites, known as Standfirm and a successor dubbed Code 200 -- a reference to the police radio transmission signalling an officer in trouble.

The newer site consisted mainly of responses excerpted from an internal police union survey critical of management and giving poor performance ratings to senior officers.

Shah, who is a Muslim of Pakistani origin, has been on long-term disability since March 2003.

He lodged a complaint in April 2004 claiming Beaton failed to act on a formal complaint that the constable was allegedly the target of racist taunts, intimidation and harassment from fellow officers.

After reviewing Shah's complaint, the police commission ruled Beaton did not breach policing regulations.

Beaton's lawsuit against Vahey and Fisher triggered controversy when it was first revealed it would be paid for by a municipal legal fund.

Beaton has been criticized for initially having the lawsuit documents sealed and for obtaining a rarely used court order to seize a computer from Vahey's southeast home.

The case, which had been kept under wraps for months after a judge sealed its contents, was partly revealed after the Calgary Herald and two other media outlets challenged the sealing order.

"Beaton is on a witch hunt. He's not going to find any more," said Shah. "My main thing now is that I am going to protect (their) anonymity."

Calgary Police Service spokesman Robert Palmer said the department will push forward with its investigation despite Shah's claims he is the only person responsible.

Vahey said Monday she is still interested in sitting down with Alberta Solicitor General Harvey Cenaiko to discuss what she believes are major problems inside the force.

"I think there needs to be an inquiry," said Vahey, who stands by her apology to Beaton. "This was done for police to give them a venue."

Despite the controversy, Shah wants to return to the force as an officer.

He admits it will be hard, but said there are dozens of officers who have been supportive in his bid to return.

The police service said it can't comment on Shah's attempts to return to work because of confidentiality rules.

Police chief settles with couple behind critical websites

Jack Beaton
Calgary Police Chief, Jack Beaton

CALGARY - Calgary's police chief has reached a settlement with a couple who were involved with websites that accused him of being a "rotten apple" running a "corrupt" administration.

Under an out-of-court deal announced Friday, Police Chief Jack Beaton will get both an apology and $5,000 toward his legal costs after Janette Vahey and Rene Fisher admitted to uploading the websites to the Internet.

"You can't just spread malicious lies about people and not be held accountable for your actions," Beaton said.

The sites, which started the attacks last fall, were filled with anonymous complaints from people who said they were members of Calgary's police service.

They complained of racism, harassment and corruption within the force, saying the chief didn't do enough to stop it.

In an interview, Vahey said she had nothing to do with the content on the sites, but helped post it on the Internet.

She said she and her husband wanted to help, believing the complaints from both police officers and civilian staff weren't dealt with properly.

"We really and honestly didn't know what we were getting ourselves into," she said.

Beaton used a rare civil legal move to seize a computer from the couple's home, in an effort to determine who was behind the websites.

At the same time, a sweeping gag order was issued that prevented anyone from talking about the case or reading documents related to it. That was lifted Friday.

Jan Vahey
Jan Vahey

The chief said he tried to find those behind the websites so that he could defend the force and ensure the public trusted its members.

According to documents released Friday, Vahey and her husband have agreed to tell the chief who else may have been involved.

However, Vahey said she wanted to continue battling the chief in court, but thought it was futile. "I really believe that these concerns need to be investigated further."

Under the terms of the settlement, the couple and their lawyers must also attend a confidential meeting to answer questions from Beaton and as many as 30 people that he selects.

Beaton said he's not convinced yet that any of the complaints were coming from police officers or from any of his civilian staff.

Captain's Quarters Blog

Police Chief And Critics In Legal Battle

Police chief Jack Beaton and his critics are locked in a bitter legal battle. It's a civil court battle that the chief is using your money to fight.

Critics of the Calgary Police Service are outraged over tactics being used to uncover the person behind a controversial website. "Standingfirm" claimed to speak on behalf of officers who were bullied or harassed by the police administration. It spoke critically of Chief Jack Beaton - calling him a rotten apple. He vowed to find out who was responsible and earlier this month obtained a court order to enter a home belonging to a woman alleged to have run the site.

"This is, to me, is serious allegations enough for the Chief to get to the bottom of this," said Calgary Police Commission member Craig Burrows.

Burrows is backing the chief's decision to use the rarely used order known as an Anton Pillar. It is sometimes used when there are concerns that evidence is about to be destroyed.

"The criticism is more then criticism, it's attacking the very core of the police service," said Burrows.

The Anton Pillar order is not available to view as it has been sealed by the court. A-Channel News is seeking to fight that order. Even the woman allegedly behind the site is not allowed to talk about the search that took place at her home. She is under a gag order.

The chief has no comment, as the matter is before the courts.

But former police officer and columnist Leo Knight says he's concerned public funds are being used in this legal battle -- an issue Burrows has no problem with

"This seems to be a case of using a sledgehammer to squash a gnat if you will," said Knight.

"To me public dollars are spent wisely here because it's protecting public assets, the Calgary Police Service," said Burrows.

A-Channel News is hoping to appear before the judge who issued the sealing order - in an effort to get more information about this rarely used tactic.

Travesty of Justice plays out in Calgary

There is a travesty being played out in this country this week. It involves an incredible abuse of power and authority and public money.

No, I'm not talking about the Gomery inquiry and the stunning depictions of corruption involving the Liberal Party of Canada.

I'm talking about Calgary and the incredible actions taken by the Chief Constable of the Calgary Police Service, Jack Beaton, to stifle criticism of him. With Stalin-like precision he got his own secret police to investigate the origins of a website critical of his management.

He obtained a civilian search warrant, called an Anton Piller order, to secure computers and other evidence from the private home of a South Calgary couple. The order contains some bizarre gag orders that prevent Jann Vahey, a transcription clerk for a service contracted to the police department, from telling her story, about why she went to bat for the rank and file officers and that she was not attacking the service as Beaton claimed.

Not only will Vahey not speak about the situation, but she also can't use her remaining computer to access email or even the Internet, so sweeping is the court order obtained by Beaton to shut her up.

Uncle Joe would be so proud.

Judging from the comments in the Calgary Herald story (Saturday, April 9th, 2005) Beaton has financed his revenge-driven investigation with taxpayers' money. Alderman Craig Burrows said as much in his comments to the Herald. Beaton can trumpet about his actions protecting the reputation of the Service all he wants, but make no mistake about it, this is all about Jack. And, it would appear he doesn't care who he destroys in the process of soothing his out-of-joint proboscis.

The Standfirm website, as I read it, was all about Jack and how the "Core Values" trumpeted by the management of the police service was more demonstrative of the "Do as I say, not as I do" style of management. Beaton was sputtering with anger when he was first contacted by Herald reporter Suzanne Wilton and told her he would get whoever was behind it. Well, it would seem in that at least, Beaton is a man of his word.

But, what of the methods employed?

An Anton Piller order is meant to be an extreme remedy. It is not something used everyday. My sources tell me the order was granted in late 2004 against a John and Jane Doe. This, if accurate, seems extreme in itself. How can any court in a country like Canada, issue a broad search and seizure order for a private home and an equally-sweeping gag order against someone of whom it doesn't even know the identity? An order I might add, was executed a week ago by a Police Inspector, a Staff Sergeant and at least four others.

One wonders if that application and order would stand the test of appeal or other legal scrutiny? Of course though we, and the good burghers of Calgary who have financed this outrageous action, can't actually discern that with the order sealed. Yup, that's right. Not only has Vahey been gagged, the order has been sealed by the court so we, the public, cannot see what is being done in our name, let alone to determine if it was fair or not.

I suspect what Beaton is really up to here, is to try to find out who was involved with Vahey. I'd bet he wants to know who else in the department was so bold as to be involved with a website aimed at criticizing him. Well, considering the Calgary Police Association's own poll last fall said 70 per cent of the membership has no confidence in him as the Chief Constable, it would seem the suspect list is quite large.

Look in the next few days for Beaton to make his next move, which I'm betting, will be to attempt to pressure Vahey to turn over FTP publishing protocols and passwords so Beaton's hounds can look for the IP addresses of anyone who may have posted to the original website or its offspring,

In true witch hunt form, Beaton will be looking for the identity of any Calgary police officer who may have posted or emailed information to Vahey. So much for looking after the rank and file, on who's behalf Beaton claims to be acting.

If I were a serving member of the Calgary Police Service, I would be keeping my head down and my butt covered as the inevitable witch hunt starts to gather steam. And, if I was a taxpayer in Calgary, I would be outraged at what is being done in my name and with my money. And if I were Jann Vahey, I would be screaming from the parapets about the outrage being committed against someone who was only trying to do the right thing for her city in what is supposed to be a free country.

Police chief goes to court to seize computer from civilian employee

Calgary Police Service Chief Jack Beaton has obtained a secret court order to seize from a civilian employee of the department a computer believed to be used in creating a website critical of his leadership.

The Anton Piller Order, a rarely used legal remedy aimed at preserving evidence in specific civil court cases, was executed by several police officers Saturday at the southeast Calgary home of Jan Vahey (right), who is contracted to do transcription work for the police service.

The order -- along with the reasons it was sought and approved by the judge -- have been sealed by the court, keeping its contents secret. Vahey said she's forbidden by the court order from speaking to anyone about it.

"Please do not ask me any questions," Vahey said when contacted by the Herald this week. "I'm not in the position to respond."

One of Vahey's lawyers in the case is former police chief Christine Silverberg, Beaton's predecessor. Silverberg did not return phone messages.

Beaton was tight-lipped this week about the matter.

"I'm sorry, I can't make any comment on this situation at all. It's before the courts. It's a court order," he said.

Jack Beaton

The initial website, called Standfirm Team, came to the attention of the police administration last October and criticized Jack Beaton (right) as "a rotten apple to be tossed out of the barrel."

The website purported to represent those civilian and sworn members of the service who "have either been victims of tyranny, politics, harassment, bullying, racism, constructive termination, etc."

At that time, Beaton called the site, whose authors took great pains to remain anonymous, "mean-spirited and in poor taste."

"Clearly, the authors have no regard whatsoever for our members who wear the uniform with pride," he said last year.

Ald. Craig Burrows, a member of the Calgary police commission, wouldn't comment about anything discussed privately between the commission and Beaton, but defended the top officer's actions.

Craig Burrows

"The chief is not using public dollars to go on a witch hunt for himself," said Craig Burrows (right). "He is trying to protect the integrity of the police officers and the service itself. The chief has assured us, if he is ever to do a civil suit, he would not accept a dollar.

"The chief is sending a strong message that, if you're going to make outlandish accusations, you better be able to prove it. People shouldn't be able to hide and say things to destroy people's reputations and feel someone won't catch them and hold them accountable."

Civil liberties lawyer Stephen Jenuth said Anton Piller orders are relatively rare, but most often used in lawsuits involving libel and intellectual properties, such as copyrights.

"They are used usually when other parties to the lawsuit might destroy items or they might disappear if (the party) went through the normal process," said Jenuth.

Jenuth said the police action in a civil case "would seem a little over the top."

He also agreed there should be a time limit on such orders, suggesting they should be lifted once the evidence has been gathered and there is no longer a fear of it being destroyed.

"Once these things have been acted upon, they should be open to public scrutiny," he said. "Maybe there are confidential sources that may not be disclosed, but I'm not sure the rest of the action should be secret."

In late October, Beaton turned loose a legal team to unearth the authors of the website and "hold them fully accountable for their actions."

The website also attacked the Calgary Police Commission, which it described as a "puppet" and called for a "non-biased third party" to investigate cases that Beaton and the commission have allegedly buried.

Peter Mansbridge

Website gagged as Calgary police chief wins court order

CALGARY - A website critical of Calgary's police chief and his senior managers has been shut down, after the chief used a rare legal tactic to seize a computer from a private home.

Chief Jack Beaton obtained a civil court order this month to enter the home of a civilian police employee and seize the computer.

A sweeping gag order issued at the same time prevents anyone from talking about the case or reading documents related to it, which have been sealed.

CBC and other city media are arguing against that order.

Russ Brown, a legal expert at the University of Alberta, says the method Beaton used "is the most extraordinary civil remedy that can be issued pretrial."

Beaton says he isn't able to discuss the case.

However, Ald. Craig Burrows, who sits on the police commission, says Beaton acted properly.

"I think any time you go after the morale of a service or the morale of a city that takes pride in its service, the chief has a right to act," Burrows said.

"I'm afraid we live in a culture today where you can say anything you want about people, as negative as it is, and you don't think you can be held accountable. I think our chief is just basically ensuring that, moving forward, if you're going to say something that's going to affect the reputation of the service and officers, you have to have evidence to support that claim."

Chief's administration called 'corrupt'

Messages on the site said it spoke for officers who had suffered under Beaton's "corrupt" administration.

It stated: "We are the police, the communications officers, the administration staff and other police service members and employees that either have been the victims of tyranny, politics, harassment, bullying, racism, constructive termination, etc., or we know someone who has."

Last fall, Beaton was quoted in the Calgary Herald as "vowing to take every measure necessary to get those behind the website."

He has also called the site "mean-spirited" and "in poor taste."

Four current or former police officers, who agreed to talk to the CBC about their concerns as long as their names weren't used, said promotions on the force are based on who you know, and that racist and sexist behaviour is tolerated.

Rhonda Shaw's husband is a Calgary police officer out on stress leave.

Some have left force over problems: officers

Beaton's actions with regard to the website also came in for some criticism.

"He's gone on a witch hunt, looking for whomever, whatever is involved and they're dedicating resources to that when we're short cops on the street and they're going around doing all of this secret, covert stuff," one said. "I'm upset by it."

The four officers said they've seen people leave for other police services because of how they were treated in Calgary.

Rhonda Shaw

Rhonda Shaw's husband is an officer out on stress leave from the Calgary police force ­ the victim, she says, of racism and bullying.

Shaw said she collected some of the stories that appeared on the website.

"Why should I be afraid of the truth? I am not afraid of the truth," she told CBC News.