A Manitoba RCMP officer managed to avoid being fired for abuse of authority and discreditable conduct — including one case involving an underage girl — but is being transferred to another location and docked 45 days’ pay.
Const. Stephan Shewchuk, from the Portage la Prairie traffic division, also won’t be eligible for a promotion for three years, a disciplinary hearing ruled on Thursday.
The lawyer for the federal Justice Department had requested Shewchuk, a seven-year member of the force, be fired or be given the option to resign within 14 days.
But adjudicator Louise Morel, in reading her decision Thursday, called that “disproportionate to the gravity of Const. Shewchuk’s misconduct.”
The penalty she imposed is an educational one, as a deterrent to other officers, and remedial for Shewchuk, Morel said.
“Const. Shewchuk, you are being given an opportunity. Don’t blow it,” she told the officer. “Any further contraventions of the code of conduct … could lead to your dismissal from the force.”
Barry Benkendorf, the justice department lawyer, claimed Shewchuk was trying to engage in a sexual relationship with two women he pursued after separate traffic stops in 2020.
On Oct. 31 of that year, Shewchuk conducted a random sobriety check, then later followed one of the female passengers in the car on Instagram and contacted her. Learning she was only 17, he called her “jailbait” and asked when she would be 18.
The girl then blocked Shewchuk on the social media platform.
“This interaction with Const. Shewchuk made her feel uncomfortable and scared,” Morel said as she reviewed the evidence on Thursday.
During an earlier traffic stop, on Oct. 20, Shewchuk gave a female driver a warning for speeding. He later sent her a message, saying she looked familiar and asking where he knew her from. That person didn’t respond.
‘Police officers are human’
Shewchuk’s lawyer Josh Weinstein had argued earlier in the hearing — which started Nov. 29 — that firing his client would be excessive because there is no strong evidence of sexual intent. The only sexual aspect was an inappropriate use of a sexually suggestive term, he said.
Benkendorf had said Shewchuk’s actions undermined the RCMP’s credibility and reputation.
Morel agreed with Weinstein, while saying no evidence was ever submitted to support of Benkendorf’s assertion the RCMP had been impacted in that way.
Extensive powers are granted to police officers, which make their misconduct a matter of public interest, but “I do believe members of the public understand that police officers are human and at times will make mistakes,” Morel said.
There were aggravating factors against Shewchuk, who “abused his authority by inappropriately using information gained during the course of his duties to initiate conversations with two civilians for non-work-related purpose,” Morel said.
Several people at a high school had learned about the exchange between Shewchuk and the teen, then posted it on social media. The fact that members of the community became aware of the exchange was key, Morel said, because it had the potential to damage the reputation of the RCMP, for whom a higher standard of conduct applies.
The latest misconduct offences are not Shewchuk’s first. He was penalized in July 2020 — forfeiting 15 days of annual leave — for excessive use of force the year before.
That penalty came just three months before the incidents dealt with at the hearing, although Morel did not put much weight on that. The nature of the matters were very different, she said.
Sincere apology, genuine remorse
Morel highlighted the sincerity of Shewchuk’s apology to the women and his genuine remorse as mitigating factors.
The hearing was initially set for four days and Shewchuk was expected to contest the accusations, but he instead admitted to acting inappropriately, saving the women from needing to testify, Morel said.
Morel also acknowledged letters of support from Shewchuk’s colleagues, friends and family about the personal stresses and mental health challenges he was going through at the time.
During his testimony earlier in the week, Shewchuk spoke about several events that led to him having depression and a panic attack.
His efforts with ongoing counselling and his acceptance for his actions demonstrate his potential for rehabilitation, Morel said.
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