Timeline of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and controversy over COVID court cases
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has been accused of interference in the province’s justice system. Here is a timeline of events:
Feb. 3, 2022 — Calgary street pastor Artur Pawlowski gives a speech to COVID-19 protesters at a blockade at the Canada-United States border crossing at Coutts, Alta. He is later charged with breaching a release order and mischief for allegedly inciting people to block public property at Coutts. He is also charged under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act with wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure.
Oct. 6, 2022 — Smith, long critical of COVID-19 masking, gathering and vaccine mandate rules, wins the leadership of the United Conservative Party and becomes premier.
Early January 2023 — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tells Calgary street pastor Artur Pawlowski in a phone call that charges in a criminal case against him, which are tied to his participation in the Coutts border protest, were politically motivated.
She shares his concern the Crown prosecutor is trying to damage his defence with late-stage “document dump” tactics, promises to make inquires on his behalf and report back to him. She tells him she is regularly contacting Crown prosecutors “almost weekly” to remind them the cases have to be winnable and in the public interest.
Alberta premier heard on call with COVID-19 protester Artur Pawlowski
Jan. 12, 2023 — Controversy erupts when Smith, asked by reporters why she has not followed through on a leadership campaign pledge to pardon COVID-19 protesters, responds that Crown prosecutors must be left to pursue cases independently.
But she says she talks to them on a regular basis as new cases arise. The Justice Department responds in a statement saying Smith has discussed cases only with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and Deputy Attorney General Frank Bosscha — as is appropriate — but has never spoken directly with Crown prosecutors.
Alberta NDP calls for judicial interference investigation after Premier Smith comments
Jan. 13, 2023 — Smith in statement says she never spoke to prosecutors directly and attributes the confusion to her wording, saying, “My language may have been imprecise.”
Jan. 14, 2023 — Smith reiterates on her radio call-in show she has not contacted prosecutors directly. “I’ve never called a Crown prosecutor. You’re not allowed to do that as a politician. Everyone knows that.”
Alberta premier says no COVID-19 pardons because Canadian system doesn’t work like the U.S.
Jan. 16, 2023 — Smith tells the Shaun Newman podcast that she is not pursuing amnesty for COVID-19 rule breakers because she can’t do that under Canada’s criminal justice system. She says people may have been influenced into thinking she could because they mistook it for the U.S. system.
Read more: Alberta premier says she won’t pursue COVID pardon legislation on advice from justice officials
Jan. 19, 2023 — CBC reports an individual in Smith’s office sent a series of emails to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service challenging prosecutors’ assessment and direction on cases tied to the Coutts border protest and blockade. CBC later says it has not viewed the emails in question but stands by its story.
Read more: Smith responds to allegations staff member emailed Alberta Crown Prosecution Service over Coutts blockade
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Jan. 21, 2023 — Smith announces a civil service review of emails between Crown prosecutors and her office to determine if allegations in the CBC story are true. Two days later, Smith and the Justice Department announce the search turned up no evidence of Smith’s office trying to influence Coutts prosecutors.
Jan. 25, 2023 — Alberta Justice says while the email investigation went back four months, any deleted emails would have been kept in the system for just 30 days, in effect failing to capture much of the time period in question.
Read more: Alberta Justice says probe uncovered no evidence of emails between Smith’s office, Crown prosecutors
Jan. 25, 2023 — CBC News publishes a story citing multiple anonymous sources alleging Smith pressured Shandro and his office to intervene in COVID-related court cases. In a statement, Smith does not address the allegations in the story but instead demands the CBC retract the “baseless” allegations from its Jan. 19 story.
Alberta Justice says probe uncovered no evidence of emails between Smith’s office, Crown prosecutors
Jan. 26, 2023 — Alberta Justice, in a statement, revises its statement on deleted emails, saying such emails would live on for 60 days in system, not 30 as previously stated. However, the department refuses to confirm whether the actual search went back 30 or 60 days.
Feb 2, 2023 — Pawlowski goes on trial in Lethbridge on charges of breaching a release order and mischief for allegedly inciting people to block public property at the Coutts border crossing. He is also charged under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act with willfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure. The judge reserves a verdict.
Read more: ‘The eyes of the world’: Trial of Calgary pastor charged in Coutts border blockade underway
Feb. 9, 2023 — Smith, asked by reporters whether she had spoken to Pawlowski earlier this year confirms for first time she had. She says she told him she explored amnesty but said it was not possible.
Feb. 10, 2023 — The government announces Bosscha would be leaving his job to become a provincial court judge on March 27.
March 29, 2023 — Alberta’s Opposition NDP, after obtaining a copy of the Smith-Pawlowski January phone call, plays it for reporters. Smith offers to make case inquiries on Pawlowski’s behalf, tells him the charges were politically motivated, discusses internal Crown strategy with him and commiserates with his “document dump” accusations. The NDP renews their call for an investigation into the premier’s involvement with the justice system.
Alberta premier faces fresh accusations of judicial interference
March 30, 2023 — Alberta Deputy Premier Kaycee Madu defends the phone call, saying as long as Smith is working for the greater good of Alberta she can contact whomever she wants.
March 31, 2023 — Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir writes to Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler asking her to investigate whether Smith, through the Pawlowski call, violated the Conflicts of Interest Act provision forbidding politicians from using their offices to further the interests of close third parties.
April 3, 2023 — Smith, in her first public comments to reporters about the phone call, says she is considering suing for defamation and as a result, on the advice of her lawyer, won’t comment further. A day prior, Smith’s lawyer sends a demand letter to CBC calling for it to retract and apologize for its March 29 story on the Pawlowski call, saying the story resuscitates “irresponsible reporting” from the CBC’s Jan. 19 story. CBC stands by its story.
Alberta premier fires back at allegations of judicial interference, threatens legal action
April 4, 2023 — Smith confirms her United Conservative party, not the government, is funding the legal action versus the CBC but declines to say why. The Opposition NDP says this raises red flags for the case to be politicized.
April 6, 2023 — Smith tells reporters it is not appropriate for politicians to contact accused on active criminal cases, but says her call to Pawlowski was OK because it’s her job as a politician to talk to Albertans and address their concerns.
April 8, 2023 — Smith delivers a new version of her call with Pawlowski. She tells her radio call-in show she thought she would be talking to him in his role as the leader of the fringe Alberta Independence Party, suggesting she was surprised when he brought up his court case.
She also tells her audience she strongly disagrees with Pawlowski’s “extreme views” despite telling him on the call “I’ve been watching your public advocacy for many years so it’s nice to connect with you.”
April 10, 2023 — Smith announces in statement she is under investigation by Trussler over a COVID-19 prosecution, promises to cooperate and expects to be exonerated.
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