Ethics probe finds Danielle Smith violated conflict of interest rule, but no sanctions ordered against her
Alberta's ethics commissioner has found United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith contravened the Conflict of Interest Act over a conversation she had with her justice minister about a high-profile COVID-19 case.
Marguerite Trussler's report comes in the waning days of a bitter election campaign with voters going to the polls on May 29.
Trussler, in her report, says the violation has to do with discussions Smith had with Tyler Shandro related to criminal charges against Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski.
Smith also spoke with the pastor, and stated she did so only because he was the leader of the Independence Party of Alberta.
During that call, Smith told him she sympathized with his situation but said she "did not have the mechanisms" to influence Crown prosecutors' cases.
Trussler determined that once the true nature of the call was determined, Smith should have taken action.
"She should have clearly told Mr. Pawlowski that she could not speak to him about criminal charges that he was facing and immediately terminated the call," she wrote.
Pawlowski was found guilty earlier this month of mischief and other changes for his role in a protest over COVID-19 restrictions that snarled Alberta's main border crossing into the U.S. in early 2022.
Smith said Thursday that that matter has been concluded and she wouldn't be commenting further.
CALL TO SHANDRO
Several hours after taking the call from Pawlowski, Smith contacted then-Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, a call that the latter remembered "clearly" considering he took it while he was on vacation with his family in B.C.
The ethics commission interviewed both Smith and Shandro about the call and noted that each had "a different version of the conversation."
"(Smith said) she started the conversation by stating that she did not know if it was appropriate to call him. She advised that he indicated that she could continue as the deputy minister shielded him from the COVID-related cases," Trussler wrote.
"Minister Shandro does not recall the premier beginning the call by asking him if it was okay for her to ask him about the COVID-related prosecutions. He advised me that he never felt any such conversation would be appropriate and that he almost certainly would not have indicated it was okay to proceed."
In addition, Trussler suggested that Shandro may have felt pressured by the premier during the call and the outcome could affect his position in cabinet.
"Minister Shandro stated that Premier Smith was passive/aggressive throughout the call. She asked him specifically if there was anything he could do about Mr. Pawlowski's case," she wrote, adding she found her conduct on the call "not acceptable."
"Just as was the case with Prime Minister Trudeau in the SNC-Lavalin case, Premier Smith was the only person who, by virtue of her position, could clearly exert influence over the Attorney General and had the power to remove Minister Shandro from his position as Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
"I believe that Minister Shandro must have felt considerable pressure and concern for his tenure as minister as a result of the call."
At the outcome of that call, in which Smith told him she wanted him to "make it go away" but did not expressly order him to do so, Trussler said Shandro "told her there was nothing that could be done."
Trussler called the phone call between Smith and Shandro "improper."
"In the whole scheme of things, it is a threat to democracy to interfere with the administration of justice. It is the first step toward the type of judicial system often found in a non-democratic or pseudo-democratic country where members of and friends of those in power are shielded from prosecution or are acquitted by the courts on the instructions of those in power."
EMAIL DID EXIST
While many of topics Trussler covered in her report had to do with Smith's phone call with Pawlowski, it was "not a matter covered by the Conflicts of Interest Act."
The goal of the ethics investigation was to determine if emails were sent from the premier's office to Crown prosecutors about pending court cases.
According to media reports, a member of the premier's office emailed a Crown prosecutor about a case.
Trussler said she found no evidence such an exchange took place.
"I asked numerous questions of a considerable number of people about the existence of any email and could find no evidence that the event occurred, or that any email exists. The CBC has not seen the emails and has not divulged, quite rightfully, its source."
However, even in the absence of that email, Trussler found it to be clear that Smith "used the term inappropriately."
She says during the ethics investigation a troublesome email did surface.
" The only incident that is in any way close to what was reported was the email containing a letter sent by Ezra Levant, criticizing the prosecutions, and purporting to show why they were wrong and what to do about them," Trussler said.
This letter was not passed onto any Crown prosecutors and remained within Smith's office.
"As the letter was within the jurisdiction of the justice ministry, the email was appropriately forwarded from one political staffer to another so that the second political staff member could deal with the letter."
Once it reached the desk of Alberta's assistant deputy minister of justice, a discussion took place with the deputy minister and "nothing further happened with the letter."
'GRATIFIED TO READ'
UCP Leader Danielle Smith, in a statement on Thursday, said the outcome of the report was a confirmation of "false accusations."
"I was gratified to read the ethics commissioner’s findings confirming that neither I, nor anyone in my office, tried to or did contact any Crown prosecutors regarding any COVID-19 prosecutions," she said.
She says both the CBC and NDP should apologize and withdraw the statements they made to the contrary and further extend that apology to Alberta's Crown prosecutors and civil service.
As for the phone call she had with Shandro, Smith contended she merely "wanted to find a path of amnesty" for individuals charged with "non-violent COVID-related offences."
"I spoke with Minister Shandro, who is an experienced lawyer (I am not) as I was very interested in his advice on what could legally be done about this.
"He gave me his advice on the matter and, as the commissioner has also confirmed, I accepted it. It went no further after that."
About Trussler's finding that the call was inappropriate, Smith said she requested her to provide "guidance on how to advance sensitive policy issues."
"Although she has yet to offer a different approach or advice for me to consider in this regard, I will be seeking legal advice on creating specific formal guidelines as to when and how a premier may speak with a Minister of Justice in the future about policy issues and other sensitive matters in order to respect all applicable rules and conventions."
Smith says the possibility of civil litigation against the CBC is still open and she will be meeting with her lawyers following Alberta's election on May 29.
NO IMMEDIATE SANCTIONS
Trussler says she's not recommending sanctions against Smith at this point but reserves the right to do so once the legislature is back in session.
She does recommend new legislature members attend training about the roles of the three branches of government.
She also suggested the Legislative Assembly of Alberta to consider an amendment to the Conflicts of Interest Act to pause any ongoing ethics investigation once an election is called.
"Not having such a provision puts the ethics commissioner and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in an extremely difficult position with respect to the timing and release of any report."
(With files from the Canadian Press)
The Shopping Trends team is independent of the journalists at CTV News. We may earn a commission when you use our links to shop. Read about us.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Rick Hansen's life changed the day he was told he'd never walk again, but instead of letting his disability stand in his way, he became an advocate for accessibility rights and a Paralympic Athlete. Here's how that happened.
Sandie Rinaldo: Rick Hansen marks the 50th anniversary of his life-changing accident by visiting the scene
Rick Hansen lost the use of his legs in a truck accident when he was just 15 years old, CTV National News anchor, Sandie Rinaldo interviewed him recently while visiting the place where his life changed irrevocably.
Israel pounded targets in the crowded southern half of the Gaza Strip on Saturday and ordered more neighborhoods designated for attack to evacuate, driving up the death toll even as the United States and others urged it to do more to protect Gaza civilians.
A protester was in critical condition Friday after setting themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, authorities said. A security guard who tried to intervene was also injured.
Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed new charges by Russian prosecutors.
Residents of a Gatineau, Que. neighbourhood have been dealing with a string of strangers knocking at the doors of their homes looking to pick up their purchased products from Facebook Marketplace, but instead discovering they had been scammed.
Two Chinese community centres in the Montreal area are planning to launch a $2.5 million defamation lawsuit against the RCMP and the Attorney General of Canada after being accused by the police force of hosting 'alleged Chinese police stations.'
Ibrahim Ali's lawyer says the 13-year-old girl he's accused of murdering in a British Columbia park wasn't the “innocent” depicted in a “rose-coloured” portrayal by the Crown at trial.
It has been five days since Palestinian-Canadian couple, Khalil and Nabila Manna, returned from visiting relatives in Gaza, but while the couple planned to visit for a short-period of time, the Israel-Hamas conflict left them stranded for 40 days
An elected official for the Town of Devon should be kicked out of her council seat, the town's mayor said Friday, the day after she was sentenced to 120 days in jail.
A cyclist is dead after a crash in west Edmonton on Friday.
Jennifer Rice, the Edmonton city councillor for Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, is disputing reports that she bullied staff and created a toxic work environment, but is still refusing to take questions about what happened.
Sole survivor of Sea to Sky Highway crash on how faith, community are helping her unimaginable grief
Iris Paguia-Portillo was in the front passenger seat, and her brother James and two-year-old daughter Natalia in the back seat on their late night drive home from a church gathering on Nov. 26. Just 20 minutes from their Whistler home, she heard her husband Josefat Portillo scream as their car hit black ice and struck a tree.
The City of Coquitlam has ordered the developer behind a construction project on Foster Avenue that suffered a catastrophic, caught-on-camera collapse Wednesday to hire a third-party geotechnical engineer as it works to remediate the site.
Frustration is growing over a major traffic bottleneck on Highway 1 through Langley.
Three youths were arrested after an irritant was sprayed Friday morning at a school in the Halifax area.
A 25-year-old woman has been charged with murder in connection with a homicide in Cape Breton last week.
A low pressure system moving out of the northeastern United States and passing along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia is likely to bring parts of the Maritimes the first heavy snowfall for December on Monday.
The province gave the IIO a $2 million budget lift for this fiscal year to fund 13 new positions, including seven in investigations.
To appreciate why Lynndon Franz wears a Santa hat in his workshop, we need to go back to that day he got a nail stuck in his eye.
Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued a special weather statement warning of extremely high tides on British Columbia's South Coast this weekend.
A man is dead and another is in hospital after a vehicle crashed into Lake Ontario early on Saturday morning.
Here's what the Ontario Liberal Party leadership candidates promised over the last 8 months.
A couple from Montreal who recently moved to Florida fear they may have to sell their newly purchased vehicle after Toyota refused to provide them a compliance letter, a policy by some manufacturing companies that has seen owners unable to import their cars into the United States.
Traffic on the Île-aux-Tourtes bridge will be reduced to one lane in each direction "for several weeks" as of Friday night, Quebec's transport ministry has confirmed. The eastbound portion of the bridge will be completely closed for about an hour starting at 11 p.m. Friday to redirect the lanes.
FAE's indefinite strike will continue. Union heads say they've submitted a counter-offer to Quebec as the widespread education walkout stretched into its seventh day.
After 12 days on hunger strike, Alexe Frédéric Migneault feels they have won a round in their battle against Quebec's health insurance board and is ending their fast.
Ottawa Fire Services says a man was rescued from the Rideau Canal Saturday morning.
It's a snowy start to the weekend in Ottawa with a few centimetres in the forecast for Saturday and more coming at the start of the work week.
Brockville police are looking for suspects after a home invasion and a report of gunshots Friday night.
Alleged victims speak out after a Waterloo, Ont. man posed as a CSIS agent and scammed women out of millions
Several women have come forward claiming they were victims of a romance scam by a Waterloo, Ont. man. Police believe he allegedly defrauded dozens of women out of more than $2 million over 15 years.
Police in Six Nations of the Grand River say no one was hurt after a male barricaded himself inside a home and shot at police.
The transmission tower beside CTV Kitchener’s old station has been fully dismantled.
Saskatoon property taxes are going up 6.04 per cent next year, after an unprecedented length of budget discussions.
A Saskatchewan First Nation is using wood from old grain elevators to build some of the first homes on its land.
Kids in Saskatoon are one step closer to riding city buses for free.
While he’s a big supporter of what the city has planned for downtown, the owner of Wacky Wings on Shaughnessy Street says he and his staff are “heartbroken” they are being forced out of their location.
DEVELOPING Heavy police presence in New Liskeard
Few details are available, but there is a heavy police presence Friday morning near Highway 11 and Bedard Drive in New Liskeard.
Provincial police are investigating the death of a resident at a long-term care facility in Orillia.
A suspect has been charged with four counts of second-degree murder in connection with the Langside homicide.
The Manitoba government is broadening its plan for a fuel tax holiday after receiving criticism from farm groups, snowmobilers and the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.
A new set of traffic lights are now operational on Highway 59 which runs through Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. The improvement comes months after a tragedy witnessed by several residents.
With the weather phenomenon known as El Nino expected to impact much of western Canada this winter, including Saskatchewan, one meteorologist wants people to know it doesn’t mean no snow and above-zero temperatures will be the everyday norm.
Former Saskatchewan junior hockey coach Bernard (Bernie) Lynch was found guilty by a Regina Court of King’s Bench judge on Friday of sexual assault and assault stemming from incidents that took place in August of 1988.
On Thursday the Saskatchewan Roughriders confirmed they had selected former Toronto Argonauts defensive coordinator Corey Mace, as the team’s 48th head coach and on Friday he addressed the media and Rider Nation for the first time since taking on the new role.