United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith has been absolved by the Ethics commissioner following an investigation into allegations that she and her office contacted Crown prosecutors regarding Covid-19 prosecutions.
The Commissioner’s findings come three weeks into a provincial election campaign between the UCP and the NDP, with polls showing a tight race.
Smith said the report confirms that the CBC and the Alberta NDP have “repeatedly lied to Albertans for months.”
“Both the CBC and NDP should apologize and withdraw those false accusations immediately and publicly,” Smith said in a statement.
“They should also apologize to Alberta’s independent Crown Prosecutors and Civil Service for repeatedly questioning their integrity in addressing these matters.”
The investigation was requested by the Opposition Alberta NDP following a leaked phone call between Smith and controversial street pastor Artur Pawlowski discussing his criminal charges stemming from his involvement at the Coutts border blockade in February 2022.
Allegations that Smith contacted Crown prosecutors arose in January from a CBC News report, which relied on anonymous sources, saying the Premier’s office emailed prosecutors to challenge their assessment on Coutts border blockades cases.
At the time, Smith called the allegations “baseless” and called for a retraction and apology.
CBC instead doubled down on its reporting with a second story alleging that Smith inappropriately pressured Justice Department officials to intervene in pandemic-related charges.
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.
Smith has said publicly that she’s spoken with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro about whether Covid-19 prosecutions are still in the public interest and are likely to result in conviction.
The Ethics Commissioner ruled that these discussions were inappropriate.
“I invited the Commissioner to give me and future premiers the benefit of some guidance on how to advance sensitive policy issues similar to this with the Minister of Justice if she thought there was a more appropriate way,” Smith said.
The Commissioner’s findings also have implications for a defamation suit Smith has threatened against the CBC.
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 — a deadline now passed.
The CBC article in question reported on the call between Smith and 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.”
The premier now says the Ethics Commissioner’s ruling confirms “ false and defamatory statements” made by the CBC and NDP.
“I will confer with my counsel on what next steps are to be taken after the election,” she said.
“I look forward to spending the remainder of the campaign talking about issues that Albertans are focused on – namely the economy, jobs, affordability, public safety and healthcare.”
Albertans head to the polls on May 29.