Calgary

NDP wants investigation following CBC report of Alberta premier's office contact with Crown prosecutors

The Opposition Alberta NDP is calling for an independent investigation after sources told CBC News that a staffer in Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's office contacted the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service about cases related to the Coutts border blockades and protests.

Former Redford chief of staff says record of any emails should be easy to find

A woman sits down facing the camera for an interview.
Alberta NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi is calling for an independent investigation into emails sent from the premier's office to the Crown prosecution's office, adding there are too many unknowns right now about exactly what was said and by whom. (CBC News)

The Opposition Alberta NDP is calling for an independent investigation after sources told CBC News that a staffer in Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's office contacted the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service about cases related to the Coutts border blockades and protests.

During a press availability Friday, NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi said Albertans need to know what were in the emails.

"The attorney general, Tyler Shandro, in his responsibility as the top lawyer in the province, as well as most responsible for the administration of justice and the law in Alberta, he is responsible," Pancholi said.

"He should be appointing an independent investigator immediately to look into this. That is the step he can take immediately to protect the administration of justice and the administration of law here in Alberta."

On Thursday, CBC News reported that the emails were sent last fall from the premier's office to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service critiquing the prosecutors' assessment of the charges and pushing back on the characterizations of the protest, according to sources whom CBC agreed not to identify because they fear they could lose their jobs.

CBC News has not viewed the emails in question.

The Alberta premier's office has said Smith has not been in touch with Crown prosecutors and had no knowledge of anyone on her staff doing so. It said that if a staff member had been in touch, that "appropriate action will be taken."

The premier's office did not immediately respond to a follow-up email on Friday requesting to clarify if it planned to investigate internally.

A woman wearing a black blazer is speaking in front of a Canadian flag.
In a statement provided to CBC Thursday evening, the premier's office said Smith has not been in contact with Crown prosecutors and has no knowledge of anyone on her staff doing so. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The NDP had previously called for an independent investigation, given Smith's previous statements on whether she had contacted Crown prosecutors. Last Friday, the premier said she had used "imprecise" language after saying on two occasions that she had been in contact

Former chief of staff says records should exist

Alberta political strategist Stephen Carter worked for a period of time as chief of staff for Smith when she was the leader of what was then the Wildrose Alliance Party, resigning from that position in 2009. He was also chief of staff for former Alberta premier Alison Redford.

Carter said there should be ways of determining which staff member sent the email.

"You're not supposed to delete your emails from the system. That is a rather significant no-no. So you save everything," Carter said. 

He said such an offence should lead to the dismissal of a staff member.

"If they don't fall on their sword, then the premier would have to fire them, and they may have to fire them, even if they're willing to fall on their sword," he said.

Alberta political strategist Stephen Carter, who worked for a period of time as chief of staff for Smith when she was the leader of the now-dissolved Wildrose Party, said it should be possible to find records of emails sent from the premier's office. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Lisa Silver, who teaches in the University of Calgary's faculty of law, said no emails should have been sent to Crown prosecutors.

"There should be no emails, there should be no phone calls. Any questions that anyone may have should be at the cabinet table, and then the minister of justice knows what to say and what not to say," she said.

The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service wouldn't comment on the emails Thursday, writing that assistant deputy minister of the justice department Kim Goddard did "not recall" viewing the emails but said "it is difficult to say with 100 per cent confidence that neither Kim [Goddard] nor [prosecutor] Steve [Johnston] have seen the emails that you have described but not provided." 

Asked on Friday whether a new Crown might be assigned to the Coutts-related cases, a spokesperson with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service said that, as with all prosecutions, the Coutts-related prosecutions are assessed on an individual basis.

"We are confident that the assigned prosecutors have executed their duties in full compliance with their obligations and as such, there are no plans to reassign this matter," wrote spokesperson Michelle Davio.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joel is a reporter/editor with CBC Calgary. In fall 2021, he ran CBC's bureau in Lethbridge. He was previously the editor of the Airdrie City View and Rocky View Weekly newspapers. He hails from Swift Current, Sask. Reach him by email at joel.dryden@cbc.ca

With files from Meghan Grant, Elise von Scheel, Jason Markusoff and Colleen Underwood

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