The Alberta NDP says Danielle Smith is “unfit” to remain premier after a phone call between her and Artur Pawlowski was released in which she offers to help the controversial street preacher with his criminal charges.
Pawlowski faces mischief for allegedly inciting protestors to continue blocking the international border crossing at Coutts, Alberta in early 2022. He is also charged under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act with wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure, and has a lengthy trail of charges stemming from breaching Covid-19 restrictions.
In a press conference on Wednesday morning, NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir called for an independent investigation into the premier’s actions just two months ahead of a provincial vote.
“She should not be talking to someone who’s accused of criminal charges and telling them that she’s somehow looking into it,” he told reporters.
The recording was released one day after the Independence Party of Alberta turfed Pawlowski as leader. It reveals a phone conversation between Smith and Pawlowski in early January, just weeks before his trial in Lethbridge on Feb. 2.
The NDP said they received the recording from a concerned member of the public, adding that Pawlowski also published it on Youtube.
In the call, Pawlowski said he’s facing 10 years in prison and blames Smith for not following through on her earlier promises to seek clemency.
Smith tells Pawlowski multiple times that she is unable to intervene in the legal matter during the call.
“There isn’t really a mechanism for me to order them to drop cases,” Smith responds. “It’s just the way our legal system works, I’m afraid.”
Shortly after becoming party leader, Smith said she wanted to pardon those charged for breaching Covid-19 restrictions. She abandoned those promises months later, saying her Justice minister said it would not be possible for her to interfere in the independent Crown prosecution process.
She explains to Pawlowski in the recording, “Once the process is underway, I can ask our prosecutors: ‘Is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction and is it in the public interest,’ and I assure you, I have asked them almost weekly ever since I got started here.”
The Alberta NDP say this comment is proof that Smith contacted Crown prosecutors and pressured them to drop Covid cases.
In a statement Wednesday, Smith maintained that she and her staff have not been in contact with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.
“Allegations to the contrary are defamatory and will be dealt with accordingly,” she said.
“As I have 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.”
“As also indicated previously 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. I have followed that advice.”
The premier has been facing allegations of inappropriately pressuring Crown prosecutors for months. In January, CBC News reported that Smith’s office emailed Crown prosecutors challenging their assessment on Coutts border blockades cases.
After Smith called the reporting “defamatory” and asked for a retraction, CBC doubled down on its reporting with a second story alleging that Smith inappropriately pressured Justice department officials to intervene in pandemic-related charges.
During the call, Smith also repeatedly says she’s trying to “stay in the lines” of what’s appropriate.
“It was a political decision that initiated this, but it can’t be a political decision to end this,” she said. “That’s what I’m finding very frustrating.”