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Shannon Phillips
spillips | Instagram

Politics or Roller Derby, Which is Tougher?

Shannon Phillip’s departure is not just another political resignation; it’s a dire warning about Alberta’s democracy

Shannon Phillips, the NDP MLA for Lethbridge-West, recently announced that she is quitting politics.

Why should you care? Politicians come and go.  

Well, in this case, you should care, big time.

Whether you lean to the right, left, or somewhere between doesn’t matter. And even if you’re really into politics or would rather go to the dentist than hear the latest political news, Phillps’ reasons for leaving are a warning bell for Alberta’s democracy.

Phillips said she’s tossing in the towel because she’s sick and tired of the lying, misinformation and personal attacks that are becoming business as usual in Alberta.

Phillips is no fragile wallflower; she played roller derby for the Deathbridge Derby Dames team.

Shannon ‘Gnome Stompsky’ Phillips pushes past opponents during a roller derby match with her team, the Deathbridge Derby Dames
Shannon ‘Gnome Stompsky’ Phillips pushes past opponents during a roller derby match with her team, the Deathbridge Derby Dames | Cody Belter

Dedicated to Public Service

Phillips was first elected in 2015 and served as Environment Minister in Rachel Notley’s NDP government.

She was dedicated and determined. She fought hard for social, community and environmental issues.

A 2016 Maclean‘s magazine article described her as “a tenacious social democrat with roots in activism, feminism and organized labour, and whose toughness follows her outside the office. It has to be when you’re determined to succeed as a roller derby player and single mom of two.”    

But even thick-skinned women have their limits.

“I’m the next in a line of woman politicians who are taking a pass,” Phillips told the Globe and Mail. 

“These conditions are not improving,” Phillips said. “The right is only getting more crazy and more bonkers, and disinformation is just getting worse.”

In a 2021 CBC story, Phillips’s Constituency Assistant, Lisa Lambert, said she acted as a buffer between her boss and the onslaught of hate via email and social media.

“We used to say that if we hadn’t been called a [misogynistic slur] by nine in the morning, we weren’t at work yet,” said Lambert. “It was constant.”

Lethbridge Police Harassment 

Being harassed with nasty insults is becoming the norm for women politicians.

However, the harassment Phillips faced became much more profound than name-calling by citizens. 

As reported by CBC, Lethbridge police officers took photos of her at a diner and anonymously posted them on the Internet. 

It turns out that those officers personally objected to Phillips’ efforts to ban OHVs (off-highway vehicles) from certain trails in Castle Provincial Park.

A whistleblower sent Phillips documents in 2021 that say that Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh “has openly said in front of employees at the Lethbridge Police Service ‘anyone who would vote for Shannon Phillips is r—-ded.'”  The blanked-out word is an offensive word for the mentally disabled.

It got worse and even more strange.        

In 2020, Phillips filed a FOIP (Freedom of Information and Privacy of Protection Act) request.

She got a CD with more than 9,000 pages of documents. Many of them were blacked out, but the records still showed that five police officers searched her name eight times in 2018 and accessed files containing her personal information.

The snooping had no purpose. Phillips had not broken any laws and was not the subject of any formal investigation.

Emily Laidlaw, a cybersecurity legal expert and associate professor at the University of Calgary, told CBC that it was no different than hacking.

“It’s just that they don’t need to break into a system to gain access to the data,” Laidlaw said. “They actually have it available to them, and they’re supposed to exercise self-restraint.” 

Shannon Phillips outside the Lethbridge Police Service headquarters
Shannon Phillips outside the Lethbridge Police Service headquarters | Dave Rae | CBC

Police Force Investigated

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the province’s so-called police watchdog, investigated the police’s unwarranted spying and harassment of Phillips.

ASIRT found that the police officers violated the Provincial Police Act and recommended charges against the police.

Perfect, justice should be served.

In 2021, Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh threatened retaliation against Shannon Phillips and a CBC journalist for exposing misconduct within the service | David Rossiter | The Canadian Press
In 2021, Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh threatened retaliation against Shannon Phillips and a CBC journalist for exposing misconduct within the service | David Rossiter | The Canadian Press

But then nothing happened. The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service went silent and did nothing! 

Phillips wrote on Instagram, “I was not prepared for how hard the police oversight process has been on me, my family, and my love of political life. The LPS [Lethbridge Police Service] did incredible harm to my career and reputation. They’ve also repeatedly rejected any opportunity to show accountability or responsibility.”

Citizens sending vicious, misogynistic hate mail just because they disagree with a politician is the stuff of cowards and losers.

But when officers in uniform follow, harass and spy on that politician for no legal reason and then face no legal consequences, that’s downright scary.

Consequently, Alberta has lost a good politician and a fighter.

And Alberta’s democracy has been weakened.

Phillips summed it perfectly in an Instagram post, “The threat that law enforcement may violate a citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure if they don’t like that citizen’s politics is intolerable in a free and democratic society.”

Albertans want fair and equal treatment of all politicians and public servants, no matter the political stripe. 

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