'Tobaccogate' conflict allegations against former premier Alison Redford to be investigated again
New information revealed by CBC News justifies 're-investigation'
There will be another investigation of conflict-of-interest allegations against former Alberta premier Alison Redford.
The allegations relate to a potentially lucrative tobacco-litigation contract Redford personally awarded to a legal consortium, with which she shared close personal and political ties.
In a news release Thursday, British Columbia Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser said he had determined a "re-investigation is warranted based on new information that was revealed."
The new information came from a CBC News investigation, which revealed a previous ethics investigation of Redford did not have access to relevant documents that could have affected the outcome of that investigation.
In 2013, Redford was cleared of the conflict allegations by then Alberta ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson. He conducted an investigation after CBC News revealed the links between Redford and the legal consortium, which included the Calgary law firm of her former husband, Robert Hawkes, who also led her transition team when she became premier.
In November 2015, CBC News revealed the selection process for the tobacco-litigation contract had been manipulated. It also revealed Wilkinson did not see many documents, including the first version of a briefing note that effectively eliminated the consortium eventually chosen by Redford.
In response to the CBC revelations, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley asked former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to conduct a review.
Relevant information not provided
Iacobucci's report, released in April, said it was "abundantly clear" Wilkinson's investigation did not have access to all the relevant information. He recommended Alberta's ethics commissioner, Marguerite Trussler, should decide whether another investigation was warranted.
Trussler handed off that decision to Fraser because she said she knows some of the lawyers involved in the case and wished to avoid any potential conflict of interest.
Fraser, in an Aug. 3 letter to Ganley, cites a section of Alberta's Conflicts of Interest Act that states the ethics commissioner may re-investigate a matter that has already been reported upon "only if, in the ethics commissioner's opinion, there are new facts that on their face might change the original findings."
Fraser said that the words, "new facts that on their face might change the original findings" set a low threshold for re-investigation, which he said is consistent with the purposes of the Conflict of Interest Act.
But Fraser stressed the decision to conduct another investigation "should not be interpreted as a finding about the propriety of the conduct of the Honourable Alison Redford."
He also said "the presumption of innocence remains intact and no findings can be made against any person unless the allegations are proven on a balance of probabilities in fair process."
Redford did not respond to a call or emails on Thursday.
Renewed calls for criminal investigation
The Wildrose Party renewed its call for a criminal investigation of what it has dubbed "Tobaccogate."
"Wildrose urges that potential criminality surrounding Tobaccogate can and should be investigated given the potential serious abuse of taxpayer dollars and the possibility of a breach of public trust in the matter," Wildrose justice critic Scott Cyr said in a news release.
"It makes good sense for a criminal investigation and a re-examination of the matter by B.C. Commissioner Fraser to be completed simultaneously."
The Wildrose also released a letter it received from a senior RCMP officer in December, which states an investigator was conducting a review to determine if a criminal investigation was warranted. The RCMP has declined to say what, if any decision, has been made.
An Alberta Justice spokesperson said there is no time frame for Fraser to complete his investigation.
"He will take the time needed to do a thorough re-investigation," Michelle Davio said.
It is also not known how much this investigation will cost Alberta Justice. So far, it has been less than $4,000, Davio said.