CBC Investigates exposed manipulation of tobacco-litigation selection process

For more than three years, Alberta Justice has stonewalled attempts by the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton to obtain documents related to a controversial tobacco-litigation contract.

Dysfunctional fatality inquiry system, backroom contract deal among other 2015 stories

A CBC News investigation found the process that led to Alberta choosing a legal consortium to represent it in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry was manipulated. Former premier Alison Redford, who chose the consortium while justice minister, said she was never told the winning consortium had been ranked last by a government review committee.

For more than three years, Alberta Justice stonewalled attempts by CBC Investigates to obtain documents related to a controversial tobacco-litigation contract.

But in 2015, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton found another way to get at the real story.

Leaked internal Alberta Justice documents revealed the process for selecting a legal consortium to represent Alberta in the biggest lawsuit in the province's history had been manipulated.

Another leaked internal document — this one from within the winning consortium — suggested political connections may have played a major role in the selection process.

A series of stories eventually led the NDP government to order a review by a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice. When the government resisted calls for a criminal investigation, the Opposition Wildrose formally asked the RCMP to investigate.

Politics played a role

There were also allegations politics played a role in the revision of another Alberta Justice contract, this one involving the transportation of bodies for Alberta's chief medical examiner's office.

Again, leaked internal government documents showed former Alberta Justice minister Jonathan Denis appears to have ordered his staff to reopen a government contract to address the demands of an industry association that was lobbying rural Conservative MLAs. Both Alberta's auditor general and public interest commissioner are investigating.

Tips from insiders often lead to stories. And several tips resulted in stories about extraordinarily high executive salaries at the Agriculture Financial Services Corp. and Alberta Innovates, and a story that revealed the chief executive officer of the Alberta Pension Services Corp. was commuting from her home outside Toronto at public expense.

AMVIC's troubled history

The Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) has a troubled history. In 2015, a series of stories raised serious questions about its management.

During the lead-up to the spring provincial election, an AMVIC investigator was forced to resign after CBC Investigates revealed he was moonlighting for the then-ruling Conservative party, vetting nomination candidates. Two more stories revealed a dysfunctional agency run by a chief executive officer considered a "tyrant" by some of his employees.

The government is now reviewing all agencies, boards and commissions in Alberta.

Antiquated system

Alberta is the only province with a fatality inquiry system that utilizes a fatality review board. As CBC Investigates revealed, the result is an antiquated system that fails to prevent future deaths, wastes public resources, doesn't properly serve the public, and should be replaced.

The response from new Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley was to claim she had already ordered another review, even though her ministry had conducted a detailed review nearly two years before.

The goal of investigative reporting is to promote transparency and accountability and to force change in the public interest.

In 2014, CBC Investigates revealed Edmonton police officer Mike Wasylyshen had been promoted to sergeant, despite a troubling disciplinary and criminal record. The story caused national outrage, especially among the aboriginal community.

In 2015, the Edmonton Police Service finally responded by making it more difficult for officers with criminal and internal disciplinary records to be promoted.

This is a small sampling of the 65 stories CBC Investigates produced in 2015. Most of these stories were made possible by sources who sometimes risked their careers to provide tips or documents in the hope wrongs could be righted.

Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca.