Crime, Municipal Politics, Published Articles

Chief McGrogan denies claim negative internal survey results were swept under the rug

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

Medicine Hat’s police chief and chair of the police commission are pushing back against allegations they suppressed two internal surveys conducted by the city’s Human Resources department, which cast the force’s work environment in a negative light.

“Some people don’t like the results but there was nothing hidden,” chief Andy McGrogan, who initiated the surveys in 2017, said of the internal response.

“There seems to be people (who) think we haven’t been communicating with the police commission, which we have been. It’s an internal matter and I always inform the commission of all we do, so there’s no secrets. None.”

The first survey was specifically for female officers, which had just seven responses, and the second was for all employees of the police department. Both surveys were provided to the News by local paralegal Ken Montgomery.

According to the results of the initial survey, about 42 per cent of female officers either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “Development opportunities are available equally to both male and female officers.” This is roughly equivalent to three of the seven officers who participated.

The survey also identified themes consistent among participants, including being the target of inappropriate comments and physical behaviour from male officers, a lack of trust and confidentiality, a sense that women officers are held to a higher standard than their male counterparts and a “boys club” atmosphere.

The second survey includes a word bubble of adjectives employees use to describe MHPS culture. Although ‘Awesome’, ‘Busy’ and ‘Team’ appear in the bubble, others described the environment as ‘Poison’, ‘Toxic’, ‘Cliquey’ and ‘Political’.

The results of its questionnaire portion reveal that 58 per cent of employees disagree with the statement, “Opportunities are provided equally for professional development” and 70 per cent disagree with the assertion, “The promotional process is fair and based on individual performance, seniority and merit.”

And 54 per cent disagreed with the statement that senior management, “Promotes a culture of inclusion and diversity,” although 57 per cent agreed that upper management, “Acts with integrity.”

Montgomery says he sought to obtain these documents based on issues some current and former MHPS employees brought to him confidentially.

“They’re upset and concerned,” he said, placing his allegations in the context of the ongoing discussion of bullying and harassment in the RCMP.

“If you see something wrong, you’re supposed to take a stand. I’m thinking of the good members of the Medicine Hat Police Service — past and present — who want to do their jobs right in a proper environment.”

The chief cast doubt on the veracity of allegations made by somebody outside the police force.

“He doesn’t know,” said McGrogan.

The results were presented to the commission, McGrogan says.

“There’s really nothing our governing body doesn’t know about our operations that is significant to know,” he said. “There seems to be some misconception that we have the raw data, but we did go to HR and ask them to keep the raw data and generalize.”

The results were provided to each member of the Medicine Hat Police Service, McGrogan added.

“We’ve made a number of changes,” he said, declining to provide specifics at this time.

“I can tell you the police commission knows everything I know.”

Commission chair Greg Keen said the oversight body was provided with the same survey data as MHPS members.

“From what I recall, it wasn’t just verbal. There would have been some sort of presentation given to us,” said Keen.

According to the minutes of the December 2017 meeting, McGrogan told the commission that as a result of the internal survey results, the MHPS will be updating its clothing and appearance policy, allowing officers to show tattoos and have facial hair.

Beyond that, there’s no mention of the surveys in the minutes since May 2017, when McGrogan told the commission he had initiated the second questionnaire.

In addition to the News, Montgomery addressed his report, including the survey results, to Keen, Mayor Ted Clugston and MLA Robert Wanner, among others.

Keen says he hasn’t seen any documents, but has had “some communication” with Montgomery via e-mail.

“He’s never brought up an issue with me.”

Canadian Politics (Provincial), Labour, Municipal Politics, Published Articles

Catholic Board stands by its right to ‘preferential hiring’

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

The Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education stands by its right to “preferential hiring,” says chair Dick Mastel.

Last week, Education Minister David Eggen requested the province’s 17 Catholic school boards submit their employment contracts to the ministry for review over a controversial “Catholic lifestyle” clause, which the minister says could be used to discriminate against LGBTQ employees.

In an interview with the News, Mastel confirmed the MHCBE has this clause in its contract, as is the case for Catholic schools province-wide, but emphasized that the board is co-operating fully with Eggen’s request.

“As trustees, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our administrators to provide a safe and caring workplace. The notion that’s around that our schools are unsafe is distressing to us,” he said.

However, he said there’s no conflict between this obligation and the board’s ability to select teachers who share the church’s values.

“We in no way waive our rights to preferential hiring and for employing teachers in a Catholic school that model our faith,” said Mastel. “We have an obligation to be different from our public neighbours. If we don’t, we can’t really consider ourselves to be Catholic schools.”

He said the board takes a “pastoral approach” in cases where staff aren’t living up to Catholic teachings.

“We speak with the teachers involved and we ask them to get right with the church or there could be job action,” Mastel said. “That’s just part of who we are.”

The chair said there was an employment issue related to this clause “some years ago,” but couldn’t disclose specifics.

“Teachers willingly choose to apply to us, to be employed by the Catholic board and to know what the teachings of the church are,” said Mastel. “Why would you apply to a Catholic board if you’re not going to abide by Catholic values? It sounds silly.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association, which represents teachers and administrators in all the province’s public, francophone and Catholic school boards, said in a statement that Catholic schools should refrain from potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

The ATA isn’t involved in the hiring process and is unable to nullify contracts its employees have signed, but can assist teachers if the terms of their contract are enforced in a discriminatory manner.

“We do advise teachers that they must be mindful of the terms of employment that they agree to when accepting a contract of employment, however if a school board ever used these clauses to justify discriminatory practices or to disregard human rights, we would vigorously assist, defend and protect the teachers involved to the greatest extent possible,” said spokesperson Jonathan Teghtmeyer.

Crime, Municipal Politics, Published Articles

Former police commission chair charged with assault

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

A former police commission chair has been charged with assault causing bodily harm against a woman, in addition to facing previously reported fraud charges, the News has learned.

Both alleged incidents occurred when he sat on the commission, from 2012-2017.

Rolf Traichel, 45, is accused of assault causing bodily harm relating to an incident that allegedly occurred March 8, 2016, but the charge wasn’t filed until May 31, 2018, according to court documents.

He was released on $3,000 no-cash bail the next day.

Traichel hasn’t personally appeared in court on that charge since then.

A Lethbridge-based Crown prosecutor was assigned to the case, due to a potential conflict of interest with the Medicine Hat Crown.

An agent for Traichel’s lawyer — Jordan Henrie — made a brief Monday appearance at Medicine Hat Provincial Court, where the matter was adjourned to Nov. 19.

Traichel was also arrested for allegedly defrauding the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education — where he worked as an IT consultant — of $1 million on Aug. 8, following a six-month investigation.

He faces charges of fraud over $5,000, money laundering and possessing proceeds of crime in relation to that investigation.

Police said at the time that the fraud allegedly occurred between 2010 and 2016, which overlaps with Traichel’s time on the police commission, but he isn’t suspected of any wrongdoing against the police.

Police commission chair Greg Keen, who has sat on the commission since 2014, said he had no idea about the assault allegation against Traichel.

He was unaware of the fraud-related charges until they were announced in August, he added.

“He wasn’t charged until he was off of the commission,” Keen said. “It came as a surprise for sure.”

Medicine Hat Police Service Insp. Tim McGough, who’s in charge of the fraud investigation, declined comment on the alleged assault, citing MHPS policy.

“As practice, we don’t comment on stuff that’s before the courts,” said McGough.

The Catholic school board didn’t respond to request for comment by press time.

Community News, Environment, Municipal Politics, Published Articles

Redcliff council narrowly rejects curbside recycling

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

Redcliff town council voted by a razor-thin margin at its Monday evening meeting to oppose a motion in favour of curbside recycling supported by Mayor Dwight Kilpatrick.

The 4-3 vote was also supported by councillors Cathy Crozier and Eric Solberg.

The contract negotiated with Can Pak to introduce curbside recycling and garbage collection would have saved the town 7.7 per cent in costs during its first year, raising to 22 per cent by 2028, according to figures provided by administration at the previous meeting.

Coun. Larry Leipert, who was the first to speak against the recycling proposal, dismissed these figures as “a lowball price.”

He said the vast majority of his constituents he spoke with wanted to retain the current system.

Coun. Chriz Czember, who told the News he was on the fence until Monday afternoon, said although he opposes this particular proposal, he wants to see recycling come to Redcliff sooner than later.

“A lot of residents tell me that they’re willing to spend a few more dollars for it,” he said. “If that makes more people happy, I’m fine with that too.”

Czember said his major concern with the contract was it didn’t sufficiently address the issue of composting, but also added that many of his constituents feared such a major change to trash collection.

“This is a big, drastic change real quick. (It was) very shocking to people,” he said. “If we can go about it more subtly, even in a few years go to this system, I’d be OK with that.”

Crozier said she used the opportunity at the previous Alberta Urban Municipalities Association meeting to speak with representatives from other municipalities on their experiences with introducing recycling.

All the other municipalities began with a centralized recycling depot, only to replace it with curbside at an increased cost.

“They started out with the depots and abandoned them, because to have recycling, you have to mail it, you have to store it, and then you have to try to sell it,” she said. “A lot of them were selling it, but at a loss.”

Solberg said he can relate to residents who are attached to their current back-alley garbage bins, but that it’s more important in the long term to modernize the system by adopting curbside recycling.

“I’m 100 per cent for recycling,” he said. “If the community, as it stands, wants to pay more to keep their waste bins and to not force people to recycle, it will have an impact.

“Our impact will be on the environment, will be on the community and will be on future residents.”