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Danielle Smith did not interfere in Alberta's justice process, deputy premier says

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has yet to answer direct questions about a growing scandal of her alleged interference with the justice system, but her deputy premier has spoken up in her defence.

Kaycee Madu, who is also Alberta's minister of skilled trades and professions, spoke at an Edmonton-area media conference Thursday.

When he was asked about an online video recording of a phone call between Smith and Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski – a man charged with incitement in connection with the Coutts border blockade – Madu said he stands behind the premier "100 per cent."

"I know the media has always been interested in lies about this particular issue," he said. "I think what you saw happened was a media outlet that is continuing their defamatory act against the premier of Alberta."

Madu says he's seen the video and insists it is "consistent with" Smith's feelings of concerns for Albertans.

During the video, which was uploaded in January, Smith is heard saying that she spoke with Crown prosecutors "almost weekly" about court cases involving COVID-related charges. She also admitted that she had done so "ever since (she) got started" as premier.

However, while Smith said she was "sorry" about Pawlowski's predicament, she also admitted that there "isn't a mechanism" for her -- as U.S. leaders have -- to influence prosecutors to drop cases.

'FOCUSING ON THE WORD'

Madu said the premier has the right to speak with the minister of justice and her justice ministry about court proceedings, but dodged questions about her direct inquiries with Crown prosecutors.

"So far, it is clear that all of those conversations focused with the minister of justice and the senior leadership of the department of justice.

"That – for anyone who wants to look objectively at this particular issue – is the only conclusion you can come to."

Anyone who believes Smith spoke with prosecutors is ignoring some fundamentals of how Alberta's justice system works, Madu said.

"Many of you in the media are aware of how our system is designed to work but you are ignoring how the system is structured to work and are focusing on the word the premier referenced – 'prosecutors' and 'prosecution.'"

Madu previously held the post of justice minister before his interference with an Edmonton traffic ticket resulted in former premier Jason Kenney removing him.

While he was serving in that cabinet position, he was responsible for much of the legislation used against those who violated Alberta's public health rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the same violations Pawlowski is charged with.

When asked if he did his job properly at that time, Madu said he didn't want to "get involved in a debate" about pandemic restrictions.

"Our province has returned to normalcy – our priorities right now is to continue to make sure that we take care of our people (and) make sure our economy is growing.

"The premier, in her COVID policies, was divisive for the people of Alberta. I am looking to see us past that particular era and focus on the people's priorities."

He said Smith's conversations were only limited to her ministers "and anyone she chooses to speak with" and wants the media to drop the issue.

"I think the time has come for us to move past this particular issue," he said.

SMITH STATEMENT

Smith released another statement on Thursday about the allegations, but has not publicly appeared in front of the media to respond to questions.

Her latest comments once again take aim at what she calls "defamatory comments."

"I stated on numerous occasions that up until that point in time, which would have included my discussion with Mr. Pawlowski, I was unintentionally using imprecise language by equating my discussions with the Minister of Justice and his Deputy Minister as being discussions with Crown prosecutors," the statement says.

"At no time, have I ever contacted anyone in the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, nor has my staff," it continues.

"There is no need for further investigation of this matter."

CALLS FOR 'IMMEDIATE JUDICIAL REVIEW'

Rachel Notley, the leader of Alberta's Official Opposition, disagrees. 

Her party's calls for an independent investigation have now turned to demands for a judicial review done by a judge. 

She believes it's only fair to Albertans to conduct that review before May's vote. 

"We cannot have our democracy undermined in the way she has clearly just done on the eve of an election," Notley said. "We're on the verge of tinpot dictatorship, but only if they don't step up and recognize the significance of the mistakes that they have made."

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