Danielle Smith under investigation for alleged interference in COVID prosecutions

Alberta’s provincial ethics commissioner is investigating whether Premier Danielle Smith interfered in the COVID prosecutions pursued by Alberta Justice.

Danielle Smith under investigation for alleged interference in COVID prosecutions
Facebook/ Danielle Smith
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"The premier welcomes this investigation, is fully cooperating with the commissioner, and is confident this examination will confirm there has been no such interference," reads the Premier's Office (PO) statement.

"Due to the ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate for the premier to comment on this further until the investigation is completed."

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.

However, she continued to face accusations of interference after a leaked February 9 call between Smith and accused 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."

The UCP leader has defended the call, claiming that 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.

Over the weekend, Smith backtracked on the call, which she suggested had nothing to do with Pawlowski's active case and prefaced the conversation on his role as the leader of another political party.

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."

The public broadcaster 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 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.

Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for the broadcaster, responded on April 3 that they stand by its journalism on both stories 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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