Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office has hinted at a possible defamation suit against CBC News following repeated reports that her office has been in contact with Justice officials over Covid-19 and Coutts border blockade charges. 

The latest report came on Wednesday, as CBC, along with dozens of other media outlets, including True North, reported on a newly-released call between Smith and controversial street pastor Artur Pawlowski. On the call, Smith says she’s been in weekly contact with “prosecutors” regarding the pastor’s criminal charges from his involvement with the Coutts border blockade.

CBC’s report argues the call reveals that Smith’s conversations “with top Alberta Justice officials about pandemic-related prosecutions were more frequent and specific than she has admitted publicly.”

Ahead of the report, Smith released a preemptive statement saying that neither she nor her staff have been in contact with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service. She adds that she’s previously said her staff worked with Justice officials to determine how to help those charged “with non-violent, non-firearms COVID-related charges.”

“Allegations to the contrary are defamatory and will be dealt with accordingly,” she said.

Rob Anderson, the executive director of the premier’s office who is repeatedly referenced on the leaked call as the main official active on the prosecution files, also took to Twitter to describe CBC’s reporting as “defamatory.”

“These NDP hacks are a disgrace to journalism,” he wrote. “How many more defamation lawsuits will be settled using taxpayer dollars?”

CBC head of public affairs Chuck Thompson says the outlet has not been served legal notice as of yet.

“Given we have been the lead news service on this story, it’s not surprising CBC is garnering a lot of attention,” he said in an email to True North.

On the call, Pawlowski tells the premier he’s facing 10 years in prison and blames Smith for not following through on her earlier promises to seek clemency. After being elected premier, Smith said she would seek pardons for those charged for breaching pandemic restrictions, but backtracked on those promises months later upon learning she did not have the power to grant clemency.

Pawlowski faces charges of 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.

Smith 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.”

She also tells Pawlowski multiple times that she is unable to intervene in the legal matter.

“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.”

The story follows months of reporting from legacy media outlets about whether Smith’s communication on Covid and Coutts related cases has always remained appropriate.

The first story broke in late January, when CBC reported that Smith’s office emailed Crown prosecutors challenging their assessment on Coutts border blockades cases. The outlet relied on anonymous sources and said it had not seen the email in question.

The premier’s office continues to deny the allegations, which it called “defamatory.”

CBC did not retract the story, but doubled down on its reporting with a second story alleging that Smith inappropriately pressured Justice department officials to intervene in pandemic-related charges.

The court heard Pawlowski’s case in February, weeks after his call with Smith, and is expected to make a ruling in May.


  • Rachel Emmanuel

    Rachel is a seasoned political reporter who’s covered government institutions from a variety of levels. A Carleton University journalism graduate, she was a multimedia reporter for three local Niagara newspapers. Her work has been published in the Toronto Star. Rachel was the inaugural recipient of the Political Matters internship, placing her at The Globe and Mail’s parliamentary bureau. She spent three years covering the federal government for iPolitics. Rachel is the Alberta correspondent for True North based in Edmonton.