PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Officers with a beleaguered Saskatchewan police force were warned about harassing behaviour in the weeks before their police chief accused members of personal attacks and character assassination, internal documents show.
Jonathan Bergen announced he was retiring as chief of the Prince Albert Police Service last May saying he was the subject of “cowardly” attacks.
“What I don’t expect from my service and the community I trust and value is the level of aggression, aggressive personal attack and character assassination on me and my leadership team, and the cruel and misdirected emotional assault on my family,” Bergen told media on May 18.
Bergen alleged that his wife and daughter had to clean up offensive posters that were put up around the city 138 kilometres north of Saskatoon. He also alleged his daughter was followed by police members.
On May 1, a memo was sent to all employees of the force in Saskatchewan’s third-largest city.
“It was brought to our notice that images of a poster, which is considered offensive and harassing, have been circulated not only within the community but by members of our organization,” said the internal memo signed by three police inspectors.
The memo, obtained through freedom of information laws, does not describe what was on the poster or where it was posted. The memo said the force condemns any form of harassment or discrimination. It directs officers to refrain from sharing the poster, adding that circulating the image undermines the trust and mutual respect “we strive to foster within our team.”
“The distribution of this image not only perpetuates the harassment of our staff but also runs contrary to the values of our organization,” it said.
The force would neither confirm nor deny that the former chief made any official complaints about the poster or other harassing behaviour.
Interim Chief Patrick Nogier, who had been a superintendent in Saskatoon before taking over for Bergen, said he could not speak to matters that took place before his arrival, adding he must also adhere to a privacy and confidentiality policy.
Nogier said internal harassment policies are extremely important and the ones his force have align with provincial employment legislation.
“Prince Albert Police Service places great emphasis on fostering a work environment that is free from harassment and conducive to the well-being of its approximately 135 members,” Nogier said in an email.
The policies include preventive measures and a reporting mechanism, he said.
“Through education, training and open dialogue, we aim to create a culture that respects individual differences, upholds the law, and serves the community to the best of our ability,” Nogier said.
The service has been under intense criticism in the last few years. Bergen’s exit came the same day as the release of a report that found two officers neglected their duty in the hours before a toddler was killed.
A Public Complaints Commission report found the officers, responding to a domestic violence call, didn’t check on the well-being of 13-month-old Tanner Brass and left him “vulnerable and in danger.”
The boy’s father, Kaij Brass, has been charged with second-degree murder and his trial is scheduled for next year.
Earlier this year, a 21-year member of the force was charged with criminal negligence and failing to provide the necessaries of life after an investigation into the in-custody death of 33-year-old Saul Laliberte.
Laliberte’s death was the third to take place in police custody over a few weeks in 2021.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, called for accountability and better oversight of the force.
The Saskatchewan government appointed former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht to conduct an independent review of Prince Albert police amid concerns over operations and criticism from Indigenous leaders.
His full report has not been made public, but the province released its 45 recommendations, which included a comprehensive policy review. It also recommended the force develop a code of conduct when it comes to disciplining officers.
The report’s recommendations noted a “number of serious issues within the (Prince Albert police) regarding discipline, grievances, relationships with senior management, the (Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners), and overall organizational impairment.”
Nogier has said the force is committed to evaluating and responding to the recommendations.
“We are steadfast in our determination to rise to the challenge and implement change effectively and efficiently,” Nogier said at the time.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2023.
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon
The Canadian Press