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Friday, April 1, 2011

Is deputy police chief Chris McNeil's suspension related to fire department investigation?

The Shebib report into alleged fire department racism becomes relevant.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2011 at 3:50 PM

click to enlarge Halifax's deputy chief of police Chris McNeil
  • Halifax's deputy chief of police Chris McNeil
Halifax's deputy chief of police, Chris McNeil, has been suspended pending an investigation of possible perjury on McNeil's part, according to the CBC.

Besides being second-in-command at the HPD, McNeil is a lawyer, still in good standing as a "Non Practising Member" with the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society. This makes the perjury investigation all the more interesting---obviously a lawyer knows the gravity of willfully committing perjury.

Of course, McNeil has not been charged with perjury, much less convicted of it. There's merely a set of circumstances that evidently warranted a closer look by authorities.

So what's going on here?

Reportedly, the investigation revolves around the involvement of Chris McNeil's brother, Anthony McNeil, in a lie-detector firm given a no-bid contract by the Halifax Fire Department. Says the CBC:

Deputy Chief McNeil was interviewed during two separate investigations into Halifax police officers and their involvement with a private lie-detector company that did work for the municipality.

The private company, which is run by off-duty police officers, gave polygraph tests to prospective firefighters. The testing service wasn't tendered, however.

There has been no decision on whether any of the officers — one of whom is Anthony McNeil — contravened the Police Act by being involved in the company.

As part of a continuing review of the company, Deputy Chief McNeil was interviewed twice — once under oath, during a formal police review board, and once not under oath during a separate internal review involving his brother Anthony.

A source told CBC News there was a discrepancy in what the deputy chief testified to under oath and what he said during the separate internal investigation involving his brother. The latter version favoured his brother.

The lie detector firm in question was Integrity Personnel Screening and Interviewing Consultants Inc., which had been performing the tests for the fire department for 10 years, starting in 1998.

Integrity was co-owned by Mark Hartlen, who at that time was an investigator with the police department, and Darrell Gaudet, another officer. Anthony McNeil did work for the firm.

After the no-bid contracts became public in 2008, Mark Hartlen was demoted from investigator to staff sergeant. But, as The Coast reported last November:

Sources say Hartlen is contesting his demotion, and is bringing forward information he considers damaging to police management.
At that time, Hartlen was appearing before the Police Complaints Commissioner in a hearing that was to last five days. A Coast reporter attempted to attend the hearing, but commissioner Nadine Cooper Mont would not allow him in the room.

Presumably, the November hearing was where Chris McNeil gave "under oath" testimony related to his brother Anthony's involvement with Integrity.

Improper IP search?

The fact of the no-bid contract between the fire department and Integrity was enough to generate much discussion in City Hall, outrage among the public and investigations by police brass. But did that require Chris McNeil to be put under oath? According to the CBC, the first time Chris McNeil was questioned about Anthony's McNeil's involvement with Integrity, Chris McNeil was not under oath. So, if not matters related to the no-bid contract, what was it that Hartlen was testifying to before the Police Complaints Commissioner that required Chris McNeil to be sworn in?

McNeil, Hartlen, the complaints commissioner and the Halifax Police Department aren't speaking publicly about the matter. At this time, we can't be sure.

There might be, however, a hint to the mystery in some earlier Coast reporting, involving allegations of racial discrimination in the fire department.

Recall that after a series of racially charged incidents, including the distribution of a racist newsletter called "The Blaze" to fire stations via email, the city hired Maureen Shebib, a former Human Rights Commissioner, to investigate.

Shebib would subsequently issue a report on the incidents, and how city managers handled them. From the report:

Minutes of the February 8, 2006 Labour-Management Relations Committee state: Chief Eddy stated this matter has been turned over to Halifax Regional Police, who are tracking its origin through general and computer investigations.

[...]

According to the police officer involved, HFES was "highly motivated" to identify the source. The police officer indicated that the Blaze was traced by another source to a particular IP and civic address. However the police officer stated they were advised by a crown attorney that the content of the publication did not breach the Criminal Code, and accordingly a search warrant could not be issued. Management was advised by the officer that without a warrant the internet provider would not release the address, and that the way the address had originally been obtained, it could not be used. Consideration was given by management to conducting more interviews and polygraph testing. However, it was determined that such further attempts to identify the author were not likely to be successful.

[...]

We are satisfied that HFES wanted very much to identify and discipline the author(s) of the Blaze. Although we are not in a position to comment on the methods used by HFES and Police, we do not believe the inability of HFES to positively identify the author(s) was for lack of trying. [emphasis added]

In short, the fire and police departments, with the help "of another source," identified the IP and civic address origins of The Blaze, but could not use that information for disciplinary action against the author. The method through which the IP address was found was apparently improper, and so the matter was dropped.

In her text, Shebib did not mention the source of her information beyond "According to the police officer involved," but a list of people she interviewed, which is attached to the report, includes Mark Hartlen---the very same police officer who co-owned the lie-detector firm and who contested his demotion before the Police Complaints Commissioner, promising to reveal information he considered damaging to police management. And here we are, with Chris McNeil suspended as an investigation unfolds.

All of this is of course speculation on my part, but it's a curious unfolding of events involving the same people. We'll have to wait until the investigation is concluded, assuming the results are made public, to know if they're truly related.

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