Danielle Smith’s phone call with Coutts protestor to be investigated

By Alejandro Melgar, Courtney Theriault, and Logan Stein

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is going to be investigated by the province’s ethics commissioner on whether she “interfered with the administration of justice” regarding COVID-19 prosecutions.

A statement on Monday from the office of the premier says Smith is “fully cooperating with the Commission,” adding she is confident the examination will show no interference.

“As a result of the ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate for the Premier to comment on this further until the investigation is completed,” the statement reads.

This follows a leaked 11-minute phone call on video, made public by the Alberta NDP and first reported by CBC, showing her speaking with controversial Calgary street pastor Artur Pawlowski.

She is heard talking with him about his trial stemming from a speech at the Coutts border.

In the call, Smith said she was “sympathetic” to his situation.

“Everybody has moved on from COVID, and we’re dealing with a bunch of charges,” she said on the call.

“It was a political decision that initiated this, but it can’t be a political decision to end this, and I find that very frustrating about the whole thing.”

She went on to say that she would make inquiries to prosecutors on his behalf regarding his case.

Since then, she has denied the calls, and on Feb. 9, she admitted to calling Pawlowski in a news conference.

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In early April, Smith read from a statement that the matter is “before the courts” and would not speak on the matter further.

However, she shared more information Thursday in a separate news conference, and on Saturday, the premier’s story changed while talking on her radio show.

She explained that she took the call because she thought it would be for political reasons and that they would be talking about Pawlowski’s role as the leader of another political party.

“She likes to talk,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt to CityNews.

“Forty-nine days is a long time to stay silent on this.”

Read More: Danielle Smith says she will no longer speak on COVID prosecutor controversy

Legal experts say the call was a violation, and she should “step in front of the cameras” and answer questions until none remain.

Meanwhile, Bratt says the investigation is a major step forward.

“I am glad that the Premier is saying they welcome and will fully cooperate with the investigation,” Bratt said.

“I don’t think they wanted this investigation because they could have called for an investigation prior to that.”

The ethics commissioner, Marguerite Trussler, doesn’t have to announce their findings until the investigation is complete.

However, Bratt says despite the involvement of Trussler, the commission doesn’t have a lot of “teeth” on what they can punish.

“But that’s not really what their role is. Their role is to let the public know,” he explained.

“The problem with that, in this particular case, around the time, is the public isn’t going to know what the results of the report is until likely after the election.”

In the meantime, former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk says the ethics commissioner stepping in is an Easter gift for the premier.

He says this is another way Smith can avoid talking about Pawlowski and the call ahead of the election.

In addition, he says the investigation won’t find she did anything wrong because the ethics commissioner is not the right person to be investigating.

“The ethics commissioner review is a bit of a mockery. The Auditor General might as well do a review on it, too, from a financial perspective,” he said.

“We know he won’t find anything because it’s not an auditors issue to be reviewed. It’s not an ethics commissioner’s issue to be reviewed. You know, it’s not the child advocates issue to be reviewed, so I’m not sure why she decided to step in.”

He says the appropriate thing would be a judicial review that would look into whether the premier interfered with the administration of justice.

NDP continues calls for independent investigation

The investigation comes after the Alberta NDP renewed its calls for Smith to speak on the matter.

NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir called on Justice Minister Tyler Shandro to denounce the call Saturday, along with the party asking UCP members to do the same.

Sabir sent a letter to the ethics commissioner asking for an investigation into the Pawlowski call at the end of March.

In his letter, he accuses Smith of breaching the provision of the Conflicts of Interest Act, which states a legislature member is forbidden from using their powers to further the private interests of any citizen.

In a statement Monday, Sabir says he welcomes the investigation but says a full judicial investigation could also be done.

“Only a judge could look at breaches of other legislation and could conduct interviews concerning matters not covered in the Conflict of Interest Act,” he said.

He says the investigation will only relate to the “private interest” of Pawlowski and says Smith’s actions are “a clear violation of the rule of law, and she should be held accountable for that.”

“Alberta’s NDP continues to call for a fully independent investigation by a judge. The Premier could launch this today. Albertans fear they have a Premier who thinks she’s above the law, or that the laws of our province don’t apply to her extremist friends,” Sabir said.

“The foundation of our justice system has been shaken. Albertans deserve full answers on what happened here before they cast a vote in May.”

It’s unclear if the report will be released before the May 29 election.

In addition, Pawlowski is expected to receive a verdict on his case in early May.

-With files from The Canadian Press and Lisa Grant

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