An Alberta Justice internal review concluded former premier Alison Redford could face four criminal charges if allegations contained in an auditor general’s report about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.
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Internal government documents obtained exclusively by CBC News show Justice Minister Jonathan Denis informed then interim premier Dave Hancock of the conclusions of a report prepared by a special prosecutor.
"The report indicates that the allegations, if proven, 'could constitute the criminal offence of forgery, uttering a forged document, fraud, and breach of trust by a public officer,’" Denis wrote in an Aug. 4, 2014, email to Hancock’s chief of staff.
In the same email, Denis said the auditor general’s report could be forwarded to the RCMP simply for information purposes. But Denis said that would be inconsistent with both a government policy "and a practice that has developed in Specialized Prosecutions where we are satisfied there are reasonable grounds to believe that an employee’s conduct involves a criminal offence.
"It is my conclusion and recommendation that this [auditor general’s] report should be forwarded to the RCMP with the request for an independent investigation," Denis wrote.
Alberta Justice forwarded the report to the RCMP on Aug. 7.
The RCMP recently confirmed it began an investigation that same month.
But the documents also reveal the RCMP had already begun an investigation into Redford’s use of government planes months earlier.
Redford could not be reached for comment.
Redford resigned as premier on March 23, 2014, amid growing controversy over her spending on travel, her use of government airplanes and her leadership style.
She resigned as a member of the legislative assembly for the riding of Calgary-Elbow on Aug. 6, two days after Alberta Justice obtained its legal opinion that four criminal charges against her were possible.
Legal opinion sought
On March 28, a CBC investigation revealed Redford had personally ordered the construction of a private penthouse in the provincial Federal Building near the Alberta Legislature.
On April 14, a CBC investigation revealed Redford had flown her daughter on 50 government flights, including two long weekends in Jasper where Redford and her entourage stayed at the luxury Jasper Park Lodge.
On April 15, Auditor General Merwan Saher announced he would conduct an audit of Redford’s travel expenses and the government’s Air Transportation Service. But Saher also investigated how Redford came to order the penthouse.
CBC obtained a leaked copy of the auditor general’s report. The internal Alberta Justice documents show Hancock asked for a legal opinion on July 29, 2014, just hours after CBC revealed the findings of the leaked report.
The auditor general released his report to the public on Aug. 7. It confirmed Redford personally ordered the penthouse and that she had derived a personal benefit from taking her daughter on the government flights. It concluded Redford had used government planes for personal and partisan reasons.
The report also revealed Redford’s staff had "block booked" fake passengers on government planes to allow the former premier to fly alone with her entourage rather than with other members of the legislature or government employees. Redford denied any knowledge of the block-booking scheme.
Sheila Brown, executive director of the Specialized Prosecutions Branch, prepared the legal opinion after reviewing the auditor general’s report.
In an Aug. 4, 2014, memo, Brown states: "In relation to the 12 instances of block booking to give the appearance that the government aircraft was full so that other passengers could not ride on the same flight, if proven, the allegations contained in the report could constitute the criminal offences of forgery, uttering a forged document, fraud and breach of trust by a public officer.
"In relation to the 50 occasions where the premier’s daughter rode on the government plane and the four occasions where her daughter’s friend rode on the plane, the allegations if proven could constitute the offence of breach of trust by a public officer.
"In relation to the renovations to the 11th floor of the Federal Building, there is insufficient evidence in the [auditor general’s report] to determine whether or not there is any potential criminal conduct.
"Since no source documentation was supplied [by the auditor general in his report] it is not possible to identify which government employees may be liable for potential criminal conduct other than the former premier herself," Brown’s memo states.
"The [auditor general’s] report states that the auditor general identified a total of 25 employees of the office of the former premier including the former premier herself, during the relevant time. Further information would be required to determine which members of her office may have committed criminal offences."
RCMP investigation recommended
Brown said her opinion could be forwarded to the RCMP for information only, but she noted the RCMP normally does not act on “FYIs,” and that the RCMP usually need a complaint before opening an investigation.
She said this case may be an exception owing to the allegations, the level of public interest, "and the fact that there is a pre-existing RCMP investigation into the former premier’s use of government aircraft."
That "pre-existing RCMP investigation" was in response to a formal complaint filed by the Opposition Wildrose after the April story by CBC revealed Redford had flown her daughter on government flights, including one flight that also ferried her daughter’s nanny from Calgary to Edmonton.
Brown was also asked whether Redford should be reported to the Law Society of Alberta. She recommended against it because the RCMP investigation, already underway, was still in its infancy and any reporting to the law society is normally done when charges are laid.