Alberta Ethics Commissioner finds 'no evidence' of Smith pressuring Crown Prosecutors on COVID files

'In the Commissioner's opinion, I had a discussion with Minister Shandro that was inappropriate regarding this subject,' says Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. 'As to Mr. Pawlowski, the Court has rendered a verdict in his case, and the matter is now closed.'

Alberta Ethics Commissioner finds 'no evidence' of Smith pressuring Crown Prosecutors on COVID files
Facebook/Danielle Smith and THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland
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The Office of the Speaker has received an investigative report from Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler concerning an alleged ethics violation by Premier Danielle Smith on COVID lockdown prosecutions.

"If the Speaker receives a report of the Ethics Commissioner's findings at a time when the Assembly is not sitting, the Speaker must make the report available to the public in accordance with section 28(2) of the Conflicts of Interest Act," reads a statement from the Office of the Ethics Commissioner.

"In my opinion, Premier Smith contravened s.3 of the Conflict of Interests Act in her interaction with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General in relation to the criminal charges Mr. [Artur] Pawlowski was facing," reads the report.

Commissioner Trussler made no recommendations concerning sanctions against Smith but encouraged all new MLAs to attend mandatory Conflict of Interest training upon their election.

"I was gratified to read the Ethics Commissioner's findings confirming that neither I nor anyone in my office tried to or did contact any Crown Prosecutors regarding any COVID prosecutions," said Smith in a statement Wednesday.

Smith clarified that her discussions with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro regarding COVID-related charges and violations reflected her desire to "find a path of amnesty for those charged with non-violent COVID-related offences and violations during the pandemic."

"As I have explained before, I spoke with Minister Shandro, an experienced lawyer — I am not — as I was very interested in his advice on what could legally be done. He advised me on the matter, and as the Commissioner has confirmed, I accepted it. It went no further after that," she said.

"In the Commissioner's opinion, I had an inappropriate discussion with Minister Shandro regarding this subject. As to Mr. Pawlowski, the Court has rendered a verdict in his case, and the matter is now closed."

Smith defended a leaked February 9 call with the accused Pastor Pawlowski where she told him she had weekly contact with "prosecutors" on his criminal charges stemming from the Coutts border blockade. While politicians are not free to contact people accused of crimes in active cases, it's her job as an elected official to listen and act on concerns from the public, she claimed

"As I previously stated, I had my staff work with the Ministry of Justice to determine if anything could be done to grant amnesty for those charged with non-violent, non-firearms COVID-related charges," said the premier in the phone exchange.

"As indicated in multiple interviews, I received a legal brief from the Ministry of Justice recommending against pursuing amnesty further as several matters involving this issue were and still are before the courts."

On May 2, a judge found Pawlowski guilty of mischief for encouraging truckers to continue blockading Coutts. He remains on trial for violating the Critical Infrastructure Act and breaching bail conditions.

An internal investigation by Alberta Justice searched for "any emails sent to or received by the relevant prosecutors and staff in the premier's office over four months."

According to a Justice spokesperson, the search included all emails in the government mailboxes, including emails from or to a non-government email address. They did not uncover any record of electronic communication between the PO and the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS). 

Smith said she's confident in its findings. The ethics commissioner confirmed those findings in her independent investigation.

"I found no evidence of such an email, and I can only come to the conclusion, based on the evidence that I have, that no such Crown Prosecutor was emailed directly about any of the cases," said Trussler, who said no Crown Prosecutor with COVID files received an email critiquing their position.

The Commissioner's full report can be read here.

"There appears to be no interference with the independence of Prosecutors on this level," she said, prompting Smith to renew her call for the CBC and NDP to "immediately" and "publicly" apologize and withdraw their "false accusations." 

"They should also apologize to Alberta's independent Crown Prosecutors and Civil Service for repeatedly questioning their integrity in addressing these matters," she said.

On April 3, the premier's legal team sent the CBC a letter demanding they retract their story on the leaked call. They suggest it "[manufactures] controversy" that her office contacted Alberta Justice on giving amnesty to violators of COVID lockdown measures, alleging "irresponsible reporting" by the public broadcaster.

The letter also claims, "related recent CBC News articles and broadcasts…seek to sensationalize allegations already fully addressed by the Premier and resuscitate a false and defamatory narrative against the Premier, her office, Alberta Crown prosecutors, and the administration of justice in Alberta." 

It cited the first "defamatory" article published on January 9, where the public broadcaster referenced anonymous sources that claimed the premier's office contacted Crown prosecutors. She called the reporting "unsourced and unfounded."

Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for the broadcaster, said they stand by their journalism on both stories and would "defend it in court" if necessary.

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