Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s legal team is telling CBC News to retract a recent news story about contact her office has had with Justice officials over Coutts border blockade charges, saying the outlet is seeking to revive a “manufactured controversy.”
The letter, dated Sunday, gives notice of the premier’s “intention to bring an action against the CBC.”
It addresses “related recent CBC News articles and broadcasts, which transparently 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.”
The letter lists a Jan. 9 article from CBC in which the outlet cites anonymous sources and alleges that the premier’s office contacted Crown prosecutors challenging their assessment and direction on Coutts border blockades charges. The story granted anonymity to sources who feared they could lose their jobs.
Smith’s lawyer calls the report “unsourced and unfounded.”
CBC wrote that the Premier’s conduct was “improper on so many levels – it’s pure interference with Crown independence.” CBC later updated its story with an editor’s note saying the original version of the story neglected to note that CBC had not seen the emails in question.
“This was irresponsible reporting by the CBC, presumably to sensationalize a political narrative,” Smith’s lawyer writes.
In response to the allegations raised in the CBC report, the non-partisan civil service conducted a four-month search of all ingoing, outgoing, and deleted emails and found no evidence of any contact between the premier’s office and any prosecutor about Covid-19 related prosecution.
“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 to Alberta’s justice system,” Smith’s lawyer argues.
CBC did not retract the story or issue an apology following the premier’s initial request.
Then, on Wednesday, CBC 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 Justice officials regarding the pastor’s criminal charges from his involvement with the Coutts border blockade.
CBC’s report argues that 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.”
Smith responded to the report on Wednesday, saying she already told the public that her staff worked with Justice officials to determine how to help those charged “with non-violent, non-firearms COVID-related charges.”
Smith’s lawyer says the second story comes two months later with CBC “apparently seeing a need to revive a manufactured controversy.”
“The CBC now again blatantly ignores the Premier’s prior statements and recasts the harmful and defamatory narrative of unlawful interference and deceit by the Premier and her office,” the letter says.
On the call, Smith is heard telling 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.”
CBC Head of Public Affairs Chuck Thompson says the CBC stands by its journalism on this story and, if necessary, “will defend it in court.”
Her lawyer calls the CBC report “defamatory,” saying it alleges “that the Premier has lied to the public about appropriate contact with a Minister in her government about COVID-19 related prosecutions.”
“The defamatory nature of the Article is transparent,” the letter says.
“On its face, based on a phone call that the Premier herself described to Albertans months ago, the Article states that the Premier has improperly discussed specific pandemic-related prosecutions with ‘justice officials’. Among other defamatory statements and innuendo, the Article reports that the Premier and other Alberta officials have therefore misled Albertans.”
Smith’s lawyer demands the CBC retract the article and remove it from online platforms and broadcasts, including social media. Smith also wants an apology and correction published online and issued in news broadcasts.
CBC has until April 28 to comply with the request, or the premier threatens to bring further action under the Defamation Act.
The letter also says Smith won’t comment on the matter, unless CBC issues an apology, retraction and correction.