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Alberta government says no emails found showing prosecution pressure over Coutts protests

The Alberta government says it could not find any emails to substantiate allegations one of Premier Danielle Smith's staffers wrote to Crown prosecutors to try to influence how they handled cases tied to the blockade last year at the Coutts border crossing.

The Justice Department said in a statement that over the weekend that civil servants reviewed about a million incoming, outgoing and deleted emails spanning a four-month period and found no record of contact between prosecutors and the premier's office.

The department says no further investigation will be done unless other evidence surfaces.

"The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) has fully cooperated with the independent and comprehensive review of ACPS emails conducted by the non-partisan Alberta Public Service," read a statement from Kimberley Goddard, K.C., Assistant Deputy Minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.

"This review found no evidence of contact between the ACPS and the premier’s office regarding prosecutions. Continued suggestions of impropriety without evidence are not warranted." 

Smith announced the investigation following a CBC News article last week, citing unnamed sources, saying emails had been sent by a staffer to those prosecuting cases related to COVID-19 protests that tied up the U.S. crossing at Coutts a year ago.

Smith did not say the investigation would include talking to the 34 people in her office or the Crown prosecutors handling the relevant investigations.

University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young says she is confident that the search was complete and accurate.

"If these emails do exist, they were not sent or received on the government server," said Young. 

"There's certainly no rationale for anything that would require people from the premier's office to open up their personal email accounts. I don't think that's a reasonable thing to ask."

The Opposition NDP renewed its call for an independent investigation, saying Smith cannot be trusted given her conflicting statements on what she has said to justice officials about COVID-19-related prosecutions and her concerns about having those cases go forward.

"What we're talking about is politicians leaning on law enforcement or prosecutors to decide who should be charged and who shouldn't be charged," said Alberta NDP children’s services critic Rakhi Pancholi. 

"The premier has developed a pattern of not being able to be trusted."

Smith issued the following statement on Monday:

"I am confident in the integrity and professionalism of my staff. That’s why I am grateful for the non-partisan review completed this weekend by the Public Service Commission, which found no records of contact between the Premier’s Office and Crown prosecutors.

"I have full faith that the public service conducted a thorough and comprehensive review. I would like to thank them for the seriousness with which they took this matter as well as their commitment to working non-stop over the past number days to provide Albertans with results to put their concerns to rest.

"An independent Crown prosecution service, free from political interference, is integral to the preservation of public confidence in the justice system."

Public Interest Alberta Society, a non-partisan advocacy group, says the investigation is simply not good enough, calling for a third party to conduct an extensive investigation. 

"I don't think there's any way to clear the air here for the premier and her office, except through an independent third-party investigation," said executive director Bradley Lafortune. 

"What I’m hearing from people today is, I wouldn't get away with this at work, and if these allegations came to light, I'd be held to a higher standard than the premier herself, is holding herself to right now."

With files from the Canadian Press Top Stories

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