Premier Notley resists calls for RCMP investigation of tobacco-litigation contract

Premier Rachel Notley said Thursday she will not ask the RCMP to investigate how Alberta’s controversial tobacco-litigation contract was awarded, despite calls from the Opposition Wildrose for a police probe.

Opposition Wildrose will file formal complaint to RCMP

Premier Rachel Notley is under pressure from the Wildrose party to launch an RCMP investigation into tobaccogate, Alberta’s controversial tobacco-litigation contract case. (CBC)

Premier Rachel Notley said Thursday she will not ask the RCMP to investigate how Alberta's controversial tobacco-litigation contract was awarded, despite calls from the Opposition Wildrose for a police probe.

Instead, Notley deferred to an ongoing review by retired Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, saying that is the best mechanism to address the growing scandal.

"I am assured if (Iacobucci) becomes aware that there is emergent or urgent matter with criminal implications, I am told that he will bring that matter forward to me," Notley told reporters at a media availability.

Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon, the party's accountability critic, said if Notley won't call in the RCMP, they will.
Former premier Alison Redford's involvement in tobaccogate "reeks of backroom deals and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” Wildrose justice critic Scott Cyr said. (CBC)

"We need to know once and for all what has taken place here," Nixon said. "I think it is important for Premier Notley to call in the RCMP and we can get to the bottom of this once and for all."

CBC News revealed Thursday that six months before Alberta launched its "independent" process to select outside legal counsel for a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry, a partner in the legal consortium eventually chosen believed it was in the "forefront" for the potentially lucrative legal claim.

An internal email suggests Jamie Cuming, a partner in the winning International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers (ITRL) consortium, believed it had an inside track to then justice minister Alison Redford through its pending association with the law firm of her former husband, Robert Hawkes.

Hawkes is a partner in Calgary-based JSS Barristers, the consortium's lead law firm, which had close personal and political ties to Redford and the ruling Progressive Conservative Party.

Leaked email

In the email, dated April 16, 2010, Cuming details the outcome of a meeting he said he had that morning with JSS Barristers partners Sabri Shawa and Hawkes, whose firm was then being recruited to join the ITRL consortium.

"The positives that arose from the meeting are that Rob Hawkes has discussed the file directly with Alison Redford, and she indicated to him we were in the forefront on the matter," said Cuming, a partner in Cuming & Gillespie, the other Calgary law firm in the ITRL consortium.

Last month, CBC News revealed the "independent" selection process had been manipulated, allowing Redford the opportunity to choose ITRL.

Taken together with this latest revelation, retired senior RCMP Supt. Garry Clement said documents reveal "potentially a breach of trust." Clement said the RCMP should investigate, even if Notley declines to make that call.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Cuming said, "I have no recall of believing that Mr. Hawkes or JSS would provide ITRL with a political advantage," adding that, "Mr. Hawkes being at JSS played no part in my approaching JSS to ask them to join ITRL."

But Cuming said he did recall that "Mr. Hawkes' experience in politics would be an asset to ITRL in understanding what government might be looking for if they chose to hire outside counsel."

Hawkes, also in an emailed statement, said: "I did not meet with Minister Redford to discuss tobacco (litigation) as you describe and at no time did Minister Redford ever inform me that ITRL was at the forefront of the selection process."

He said he met with Redford once briefly at a social function and told her JSS was likely to join ITRL. He said Redford told him the decision would be merit based.

In an email, ITRL's lobbyist Tim Wade said Alberta's selection process didn't begin until the fall of 2010, and "prior to this, ITRL was at the forefront of the effort to get every government in Canada not yet litigating against tobacco to proceed with litigation."

Redford and JSS partner Shawa did not respond to interview requests.

Selection process manipulated

CBC News obtained leaked internal Alberta Justice documents that showed the independent selection process for the potentially lucrative contract had been manipulated. That allowed then justice minister Alison Redford the opportunity to choose a legal consortium to which she had close personal and political ties.

The CBC News investigation also revealed an ethics investigation into conflict-of-interest allegations against Redford may not have been provided all the relevant documents, including some leaked to CBC.

Last week, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley announced Iacobucci would conduct a review, but stressed it would be focused on the ethics investigation into Redford and not how the tobacco-litigation contract was awarded.

At Thursday's news conference, Notley said her new government assumed the matter had been dealt with by the ethics commissioner's investigation. She didn't know why Ganley seemed unaware of the issues raised by the CBC News investigation.

Notley said all relevant documents and information will be provided to Iacobucci but she confirmed he will not have the authority to compel testimony from witnesses outside the government.

Iacobucci is to complete his review by Feb. 29. Notley said his findings will be made public.