United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith is declining to say whether she’ll continue to pursue legal action against CBC News after she demanded the outlet retract a story about contact her office had with Justice officials over Coutts border blockade charges.
Last month, Smith’s legal team gave notice of the premier’s “intention to bring an action against the CBC” under the Defamation Act unless the publication retracted the news article in question by April 28.
With that deadline now passed and the news article still live, Smith is declining to say whether she will pursue the matter further, saying her “sole focus” is the ongoing campaign against the Alberta NDP.
“I think that Albertans are interested in what we’re going to be campaigning on to move the province forward, and that’s what I’ll be focused on for the next four weeks — is making sure that people understand exactly what a UCP majority government will deliver,” she told reporters in Calgary on Monday morning.
CBC head of public affairs Chuck Thompson said the publication has not received any further legal action from the premier since the initial letter on April 2.
The CBC News article in question reported on a 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.
Smith is also heard telling Pawlowski multiple times that she is unable to intervene in the legal matter.
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.”
Prior to the call being released, Smith 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 called the CBC report “defamatory,” and said 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.
At the time of the initial legal notice, Thompson told True North that CBC stands by its journalism on this story and, if necessary, “will defend it in court.”
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.
The election campaign officially began on Monday, with the UCP promising Albertans that a reelected government will implement a flood of tax relief measures.