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Alberta news outlet fully retracts article alleging premier broke COVID-19 restrictions at Edmonton restaurant

An Alberta online news outlet has fully retracted and apologized for a recent article that alleged the premier and other government officials violated COVID-19 public health orders at an Edmonton restaurant.

Western Standard says it 'unreservedly apologizes' to premier, ministers

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney denied he broke COVID restrictions at a restaurant, and the outlet that published the allegations walked back many of those details, then fully retracted the article and apologized. (Art Raham/CBC)

An Alberta online news outlet has fully retracted and apologized for a recent article that alleged the premier and other government officials violated COVID-19 public health orders at an Edmonton restaurant.

The Western Standard published a story last week that alleged Premier Jason Kenney, along with several cabinet ministers, attended gatherings at a specific restaurant while Alberta dining rooms were closed as per stated COVID-19 restrictions.

"For our story, the Western Standard depended on multiple unnamed sources," reads a statement issued by the publication. "While those sources are known to the Western Standard, we were unable to appropriately corroborate our sources' claims.

"The Western Standard unreservedly apologizes to Premier Kenney and Ministers Nixon and Shandro."

The statement, which is attributed to Western Standard publisher and CEO Derek Fildebrandt, also states that the publication failed to provide those mentioned in the article a chance to respond to the allegations.

That was one of the errors alleged by the premier's legal team, which sent a cease-and-desist letter to the outlet that claimed, in part, that the Western Standard acted irresponsibly by not allowing for comment from the premier.

The publication previously said it had asked for comment at 5:49 p.m. MT on June 9, seven minutes before the article would be published on the Western Standard website.

"Our story should not have been published under these circumstances," reads the statement from the outlet. "We take sole responsibility for this."

The statement goes on to state that the Western Standard will review its editing and publishing policies to prevent future errors.

Cease-and-desist letter

The Western Standard previously retracted elements of the original allegations after the premier's legal team sent a cease-and-desist letter to the outlet.

In the letter, the premier's legal team demanded the article be removed, along with any related tweets.

The premier's legal team also called for the Western Standard to issue a written retraction and apologize to the premier and those named in the article.

The letter also demanded the Western Standard refrain from publishing any further defamatory content related to the statements or the article. 

    In a statement, a spokesperson with the premier's office said the province welcomed the "unreserved apology and retraction."

    "Provided the Western Standard and Mr. Fildebrandt live up to the agreed upon terms, we consider this matter closed," the statement reads. 

    "We also appreciate that the Western Standard will be making a $10,000 mandated donation to Hope Mission, in addition to fully covering all incurred legal costs."

    Fildebrandt stepped down from the United Conservative Party in 2017 after a series of controversies, including a hit-and-run charge, an illegal hunting charge and a revelation that he had sublet his Edmonton apartment while claiming his taxpayer-funded housing allowance.

    After he pleaded guilty to illegally shooting a deer on private land, Kenney said Fildebrandt would not be allowed to rejoin the UCP caucus.

    Fildebrandt ran in the 2019 provincial election for the Freedom Conservative Party but was defeated by a UCP candidate.

    With files from Elise von Scheel and Audrey Neveu

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