Danielle Smith threatens CBC with legal action over second 'defamatory' article

The public broadcaster reported on a leaked February 9 call between Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Christian Pastor Artur Pawlowski. Smith says she had weekly contact with 'prosecutors' on his criminal charges stemming from the Coutts border blockade.

Danielle Smith threatens CBC with legal action over second 'defamatory' article
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has fired back at CBC following a second "defamatory" story on alleged interference by the Premier's Office on Crown prosecutors.

A letter to the public broadcaster from Smith's lawyers is demanding they retract a second news story, "manufacturing controversy," that her office contacted Alberta Justice on giving amnesty to violators of COVID lockdown measures.

The letter 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."

CBC claimed Smith's "improper" conduct constituted "pure interference with Crown independence," despite adding a disclosure several hours after publication that they had not seen the emails in question.

Smith's legal team called this "irresponsible reporting" by the CBC, alleging they are "sensationalizing a political narrative." 

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.

"With the Email Article now demonstrably baseless, the Premier and her office demanded a retraction and an apology from the CBC, including an apology to Alberta Crown prosecutors, for the harm done to individual reputations and Alberta's justice system," the letter continues.

On January 25, Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC, said the public broadcaster stands behind the journalism in its first report despite running the story without seeing the emails.

The public broadcaster reported on a leaked February 9 call between Smith and Christian Pastor Artur Pawlowski. Smith said she had weekly contact with "prosecutors" on his criminal charges stemming from the Coutts border blockade.

"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," she told Pawlowski. 

"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."

Rob Anderson, executive director of the premier's office, confirmed his role on the file was to ask for a legal opinion from Alberta Justice on granting amnesty for those facing non-violent, non-firearms related COVID charges. 

"I obtained that legal opinion from the Ministry of Justice and provided it to the Premier as requested," he said. "[I have never] contacted the Crown Prosecution Service regarding this or any related matter."

Smith contends that she took her Attorney General's advice and never spoke with Crown Prosecutors, nor have any of her staff.

In the letter, her lawyers write:

Nearly two months later, apparently seeing a need to revive a manufactured controversy, the CBC blatantly ignores the Premier's prior statements [again] and recasts the harmful and defamatory narrative of unlawful interference and deceit by the Premier and her office.

Smith's lawyers demanded a public retraction and apology from the public broadcaster. "Should you fail to comply with this request by Friday, April 28, 2023, the Premier will take such further legal action as may be advised," they write.

The letter says, "We hereby provide notice of our client's intention to bring an action against the CBC, as may be required under the Defamation Act." 

Thompson responded on Monday that the CBC stands by its journalism on the second story and would "defend it in court" if necessary.

"Absent an apology, retraction and correction from the CBC, the Premier will not be commenting further on this matter," the letter concluded.

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