Alberta’s ethics commissioner is launching an investigation into whether Premier Danielle Smith interfered with the administration of justice tied to COVID-19 prosecutions, the premier’s office says.
In a statement sent to media Monday, a spokesperson with the premier’s office said Smith welcomes the investigation.
Smith “is fully co-operating with the commissioner, and is confident this examination will confirm there has been no such interference,” wrote Rebecca Polak in an email.
The Opposition NDP has been calling for an independent investigation since a video was released of a phone call Smith had with Calgary street pastor Artur Pawlowski. During the call, they discussed his criminal case just weeks before his trial in Lethbridge on Feb. 2 on pandemic-related charges was set to begin.
The leaked phone conversation between Smith and Pawlowski happened in early January. On the call, Smith tells Pawlowski she was discussing COVID-19 charges with justice officials “almost weekly.”
On her weekly phone-in radio show Your Province Your Premier, on Saturday, Smith delivered a new version of why she contacted Pawlowski, saying she took the call as she thought it would be in the context of his role as the leader of the Alberta Independence Party.
Pawlowski faces charges of criminal mischief and an offence under Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act related to last year’s Coutts border blockade over pandemic measures, and a judge is set to deliver a verdict in early May.
In a letter sent to the ethics commissioner on March 31, NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir wrote that the video formed the basis of his complaint, adding he was raising a potential violation of Section 3 of the Conflicts of Interest Act.
A member breaches the act if they use their office or powers to “influence or to seek to influence a decision to be made by or on behalf of the Crown to further a private interest of the member, a person directly associated with the member or the member’s minor child, or to improperly further another person’s private interest,” the act reads.
During a media event Monday afternoon, Sabir said the NDP welcomes the investigation.
“But I want to stress this investigation does not go far enough. We continue to call for a fully independent judicial investigation as well,” Sabir said.
Smith threatened legal action against the CBC if the corporation didn’t retract and apologize for stories tied to criminal cases related to last year’s Coutts blockade.
Asked for comment last week, CBC’s head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, said in an email, “As we’ve said all along, we stand by our journalism on this story and, if necessary, will defend it in court.”
Of the 85 requests for investigations sent to Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler in 2021-2022, she only conducted one probe, according to the commissioner’s last annual report.
That investigation cleared Education Minister Adriana LaGrange of inappropriate conduct tied to a $150,000 contract for students’ reusable masks granted by her ministry to a company in her Red Deer riding.
Some of Trussler’s investigations have been completed within a month, but more commonly, the commissioner has taken between three and eight months. That means it’s probable this investigation will wrap after the Alberta election on May 29.
Trussler’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBC News.
However, under the Conflicts of Interest Act, neither the commissioner nor any of the staff can disclose if an investigation is being conducted by the office.
Of the 12 complaints against MLAs that Trussler has investigated since taking office in 2014, the ethics commissioner has only found two politicians in breach of the act.