Alberta PM says she spoke to street pastor and others charged with pandemic

NDP judicial critic Irfan Sabir, right, has called on the privacy commissioner to investigate the prime minister's office's administrative practices after an email probe last month raised questions about the thoroughness of the search.  (CBC - photo credit)

NDP judicial critic Irfan Sabir, right, has called on the privacy commissioner to investigate the prime minister’s office’s administrative practices after an email probe last month raised questions about the thoroughness of the search. (CBC – photo credit)

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she has spoken directly to people charged with pandemic-related offences, including Artur Pawlowski, but added she simply told the street preacher her office could not grant him amnesty .

Smith spoke Thursday afternoon at a news conference about federal funding for provincial health care.

Pawlowski faces two counts of criminal mischief and one charge under Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defense Act in connection with the Coutts border blockade a year ago. His trial took place last week and a date for the judge’s decision has not yet been set.

CBC News previously reported that Smith pressured the attorney general and his office to intervene in COVID-related court cases, particularly Pawlowski’s.

“I’ve spoken to everyone who has concerns about some of the enforcement orders against them,” Smith said Thursday.

“I’m taking the advice of my attorney general and we’ll have to wait for the trial to be completed.”

“The Same Thing I Always Said”

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the question of when her conversation with Pavlovsky took place, a reporter asked at the press conference.

“Have you spoken to Art Pawlowski, a person who was charged and is on trial this calendar year, and if so, what did you say to him?” asked the reporter.

“I said yes and I said the same thing I’ve always said that I was seeking an opportunity to seek amnesty,” Smith replied. “I was told by my Minister of Justice that amnesty is not available to a Prime Minister.”

Smith went on to say she is awaiting a key court decision that will determine whether the province’s pandemic restrictions violated the constitutional rights of Albertans.

Data Protection Officer requested investigation

Earlier in the day, the NDP justice critic called on Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner to investigate the prime minister’s office after “conflicting testimonies” were made following an email probe into whether Smith’s office had interfered with Crown prosecutors .

In a Feb. 9 letter, MLA Irfan Sabir asked the commissioner to investigate the bureau’s records management practices following an email search in January.

The search was ordered by Smith after CBC News reported that an office worker had emailed the Office of the Crown to challenge its assessment and direction of trials related to last year’s border blockade and the Coutts protests. CBC News has not viewed the emails.

Sabir has asked the Data Protection Officer to ensure Smith’s office complies with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act.

According to the Justice Department, a weekend search of nearly a million government emails last month found no evidence of contact between staff at the Prime Minister’s Office and the Alberta Crown Prosecutor’s Office.

But in the days that followed, details about the scope of the email screening raised questions about its thoroughness.

Justices spokesman Charles Mainville declined to say whether all staff at the Prime Minister’s office and all Crown prosecutors were included in the search. He also did not specify the exact search terms used in the investigation.

Alberta Justice made conflicting statements about whether deleted emails stay in the system for 30 or 60 days, leaving open the possibility that emails deleted before December 22 may not have been found in the search.

“This government admission that emails may have been deleted and conflicting statements about record keeping raises serious questions about the government’s administrative practices and the integrity of the investigations being conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office,” Sabir wrote.

900 email accounts searched

Alberta Justice said the email search included 900 mailboxes and would capture all messages sent between Alberta government addresses and non-government accounts.

The prosecutor’s emails were searched between September 1 and December 31, and the Prime Minister’s emails were searched between October 6 and December 31. Smith gained the UCP lead on October 6th.

The government also provided conflicting messages about which email accounts were under investigation.

Smith said emails from all Crown prosecutors and the 34 staff at her office are being checked.

However, the Justice Department later said emails between “relevant” prosecutors and Smith employees were reviewed. It hasn’t said how it determines who is relevant.

Smith said she did not lead prosecutors in the Coutts cases, and the email review cleared her office of what she called “baseless” allegations in the CBC story.

The PM said twice she had spoken to prosecutors about charges related to pandemic health injuries, including at a press conference on January 12, when Smith said she had “regularly asked Crown prosecutors whether it was in the public interest if new cases emerge and is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction?”

Smith later said she used “imprecise” language and never communicated directly with prosecutors — only with Attorney General Tyler Shandro and his assistant attorney general.


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