Posts Tagged ‘Kerry Diotte’

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“It was a media case”: Police commissioners and security clearances

January 30, 2012

There are no small stories.

Okay, so there are plenty of small stories. Ever seen a newspaper? It’s full of them.

Simple stories have their place. They let people know who/what/when/where, even if they don’t get into the why. A hockey player gets injured, someone is killed on a worksite, a study is undertaken. And sometimes, those small, simple stories fetch bigger, more complex stories.

Every year, Edmonton appoints new citizens to two-year terms on the police commission. As a crime reporter in Dec. 2010, it fell to me to write a brief story about the latest two appointees, Keli Tamaklo and Cathryn Palmer. I thought nothing of it.

Within a week or so, however, I received a tip that Tamaklo had a past he hadn’t disclosed when applying for the job. I followed up and sure enough, found a New Brunswick clipping from the early 1990s. Tamaklo had refused a breathalyzer test. The tipster said there was more. Tamaklo had served as chief financial officer in Atikameg, where we eventually learned his work had come under scrutiny by a government appointed monitor.

I enlisted Elise Stolte, then-aboriginal affairs reporter, to help find sources in Atikameg. We put together a story and arranged an interview with Tamaklo. He had no idea what was coming. It was, needless to say, one of the most fascinating interviews I have ever undertaken. Tamaklo had received a pardon, he told us, and had been caught between different factions in Atikameg.

“I remember the (police) chief very well; they all remember me,” Tamaklo said of the breathalyzer incident. “I was not going to bow down, they were not going to bow down. It was a media case. My story made some news people celebrities, and made their career, and I know that.”

Failing a breathalyzer — especially 17 years ago — shouldn’t disqualify someone like Tamaklo from a position like commissioner. Having been on the wrong side of a conflict with police could even be an asset. But it should have been brought up and discussed.

If Tamaklo didn’t volunteer the information, how come he wasn’t asked? If you’ve applied to volunteer anywhere, you’ve likely been asked about criminal convictions. How come police commissioners weren’t asked that? I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer.

Over the next few months, I discovered that in 2004, a city auditor had recommended investigating potential commissioners. The commission said it would be too much work or too intrusive to perform enhanced security clearances. City council agreed with the commission. Nothing changed.

I’ve watched the police commission ever since I met Keli Tamaklo, who still sits on the board (until the end of the 2012). In the fall of 2011, I learned the city chose to hire a private firm to do its latest round of hirings. The firm will conduct enhanced security checks and will likely do so from now on.

And when I called that firm, they knew my name. I had done something journalists everywhere strive to do: I helped change something.

Police Commissioner’s History Missed. A1. Jan. 29, 2011.

Controversy Follows Commissioner. A4. Jan. 29, 2011.

Commisioner should be checked out. B1. Jan. 30, 2011.

New scrutiny for police commissioners. A1. Oct. 17, 2011.

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