Premier pressured justice minister’s office to get rid of COVID charges, sources say

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has pressured the attorney general and his office to intervene in COVID-related cases, according to multiple sources familiar with the interactions.

Exchanges between the prime minister’s office and Attorney General Tyler Shandro’s office over several months included what sources describe as attempts to influence cases.

“I would classify it as inappropriate,” said a source close to the situation. CBC News has agreed not to name them because of possible professional consequences.

Smith will ask to update the cases or ask if they can be waived, they said.

This specifically includes the prosecution of Artur Pawlowski, a pastor charged with two criminal counts and one count under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in connection with the Coutts border blockade.

Another source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Smith committed to taking the case to Shandro with the intention of clearing the charge.

CBC News has agreed not to name the sources, because they are not authorized to discuss these matters and for fear they may lose their jobs.

Appropriate media: prime minister’s office

The prime minister’s office said Smith’s public statements explained her exploration of legal options for pardon for pandemic allegations.

“After taking office, the Prime Minister and her staff had a number of discussions with the Minister of Justice and Department of Justice civil servants, asking for an explanation of the policy options available for this purpose. After receiving detailed legal advice and recommendations from the Minister not to proceed with the pursuit of options for pardon, the Prime Minister followed that legal advice,” the defense office said. the general said in a statement.

“All communications between the Prime Minister, her staff, the Minister of Justice and Department of Justice civil servants are consistent and made through the appropriate channels.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks behind a podium with the province's emblem.
‘All communications between the Prime Minister, her staff, the Minister of Justice and the Ministry of Justice civil servants are proper and made through the appropriate channels,’ the Prime Minister’s office said. Danielle Smith said Wednesday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Smith has publicly said that she has asked the attorney general and his deputy secretary to consider whether COVID-related cases are in the public interest to pursue and whether there is a reasonable opportunity to close. guilty or not before proceeding.

However, sources confirm some of these conversations have gone beyond those considerations and turned to pressure.

“They’re constantly pushing,” said one source, adding that the minister’s office had resisted.

“I would interpret it as pressure.”

The attorney general’s office rejected the prime minister’s directive.

“While Premier Smith requested the briefings and they were provided, at no point did the Premier or her office give any guidance to the Attorney General. The Alberta Crown prosecutor is independent and does not have any political decisions that affect ongoing prosecutions at any point in time,” said Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, the minister’s press secretary. in a statement.

Relationship under scrutiny

The relationship between the minister’s office and the prime minister’s office on how to approach COVID-related cases has been the subject of recent discussions. public scrutiny.

An interview between Ezra Levant, who runs the right-wing media company Rebel News, and Pawlowski reveals behind-the-scenes efforts to get the government to help clear the pastor’s allegations.

Last December, on the morning of what should have been his trial on charges of violating a public health order in Calgary, Pawlowski’s charges were upheld.

“Do you think someone called [the prosecutor] Turn off? Do you think some big boss phoned her that morning and said, ‘Hey prosecutor, you’re throwing in the towel’?” Levant asked Pawlowski in an interview posted on his website. Rebel on December 20.

Pawlowski – who will appear in court on charges related to Coutts next Thursday – responded.

He told Levant: “We were working in the foundation on a political level, trying to talk to the UCP government to drive their dogs away because this is pure revenge.

“Maybe someone smarter than Minister Shandro said ‘Hey, it’s not in our interest to wage war against ministers and pastors.'”

Artur Pawlowski is a pastor charged with two criminal mischief and one count under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Protection Act related to the Coutts border blockade. (Artur Pawlowski/Facebook)

Pawlowski’s attorney declined to comment on Wednesday.

“As this is a direct situation that could impact next week’s trial, we are unable to comment on the situation right now,” Sarah Miller said in an email to CBC News.

Levant played a key role in raising funds for Pawlowski’s legal fees and campaigning publicly to reduce the pastor’s Coutts-related charges ahead of his February 2 trial.

Smith himself received the end of a Levant-related pressure campaign in early fall.

In October, after a face-to-face meeting, Levant supported the prime minister to drop the COVID-related charges. He outlined what he thought she should do in a lengthy email to Smith’s office. Levant confirmed the contents of the email and the meeting with the prime minister.

“The Prime Minister is interested in any information I can give her on the situation on the ground and the mechanisms available for her to provide leadership on these issues,” read in part. of emails obtained by CBC News.

It argues why some charges should be upheld or withdrawn and why the attorney general should intervene – specifically referring to Pawlowski in correspondence. CBC News learned the email was then forwarded from the prime minister’s office to Shandro’s office.

Ezra Levant runs the right-wing media company Rebel News. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

“I hope that with proper guidance and direction from the Prime Minister’s office, the prosecutions related to the Coutts protests (non-violent, no-gun cases), anti-leprosy protests, and the like. other evictions or offenses under the Public Health Act… withdraw, stay or cease operations,” it wrote.

In response to a request for comment Wednesday, Levant posted the letter on its website.

“I’m very proud of that letter and I hold on to every word of it,” Levant said.

He said he had publicly called for pressure on the attorney general to retract the pandemic-related charges.

“I don’t know what Smith did or didn’t do with the letter I wrote her.”

CBC News recently reported, based on sources, that an employee in the prime minister’s office emailed Crown prosecutors several times last fall about ongoing cases involving the Coutts’ alleged border blockade. CBC News has not seen those emails.

The prime minister said she was unaware of the matter and had conducted an email search, but her office said there was no evidence of email contact.

The government later added that deleted emails will only be kept for 30 days, which is until December 22.

Two weeks ago, Smith rejected a promise to seek formal amnesty for COVID-19 health violators, saying prime ministers do not have that right.

The Prime Minister spent several days clarifying mixed comments about her contacts with Crown prosecutors regarding these cases. She initially said she spoke to prosecutors directly before saying she only spoke to her attorney general.

Smith said she wants prosecutors to consider reasonable conviction and the public interest but the COVID allegations are unique.


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