EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition leader says Premier Danielle Smith's assurance of a thorough investigation into allegations of interference with Crown prosecutors is "an empty talking point" given new details on the search itself.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said that while the Smith-directed email search covered the four-month period in question, any deleted message was erased from the system after just a month, meaning the relevant time period for those emails was likely missed.
"It is outrageous that Danielle Smith is really naive enough to think that Albertans would trust an internal investigation that has not been transparently conducted, that has been conducted by people who answer to her, and that only considered deleted emails that go back 30 days,” Notley said Thursday in Calgary.
“This is an empty talking point and nothing else,” she added, renewing a call for an independent, judge-led inquiry into whether Smith and her office interfered in the administration of justice.
Smith ordered an email review last weekend after CBC News reported allegations that a staffer in the premier's office sent a series of emails last fall to Crown prosecutors questioning their assessment and direction in cases related to the blockade at the Coutts, Alta., U.S. border crossing in early 2022.
The CBC did not specify precisely when the emails were sent and said it has not viewed the emails in question.
RCMP laid charges against several people involved in the three-week blockade at Coutts to protest COVID-19 restrictions. The charges range from mischief to conspiracy to commit murder.
On Monday, the Justice Department reported that a review of almost a million emails — incoming, outgoing and deleted — sent over a four-month period last fall turned up no evidence of any communications between prosecutors and the premier’s office.
However, Alberta Justice, in a statement to media outlets Wednesday, stated that deleted emails are only kept for 30 days, meaning the search for deleted emails would only capture those from around Dec. 22 onward and perhaps not capture deleted emails during the time frame in question.
Alberta Justice, along with Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, who speaks for Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, declined to respond to requests Thursday for that statement or explain why the statement was now being withheld.
Notley’s comments came a day after Smith faced a second CBC story, quoting unnamed sources alleging she pressured Shandro and his office to intervene in COVID-related cases.
Smith reiterated in a statement: "All communications between the premier, her staff, the minister of justice, and ministry of justice public servants have been appropriate and made through the proper channels.”
In the statement, Smith also accused the CBC of publishing “a defamatory article containing baseless allegations” referring to the original email story.
Chuck Thompson, the CBC head of public affairs, said in a statement Wednesday: "We stand by the story which transparently attributes the allegations to trusted sources and provides context to the allegations.
“As is our practice, we gave the premier and her office an opportunity to react and we included that response prominently in the story, including the sub-headline.”
Smith has given multiple versions in recent weeks of what she has said to justice officials about COVID-19 cases.
She has not taken questions in a general news conference with reporters since the affair took off two weeks ago when Smith announced that she was talking to prosecutors about the COVID-19 cases.
Smith has said she talked to prosecutors directly and did not talk to prosecutors directly. She has said she reminded justice officials of general prosecution guidelines, but at other times said she reminded them to consider factors unique to the COVID-19 cases. She has also suggested the conversations are ongoing and that they have ended.
She has attributed the confusion to "imprecise" word choices.
In her statement Wednesday, Smith delivered a sixth version, now saying she met not only with Shandro and the deputy attorney general, but also with other unnamed “ministry officials” to discuss the possibility of legal amnesty to those charged with “non-violent, non-firearms pandemic-related violations.”
The statement added: "The premier and her staff had several discussions with the minister of justice and ministry officials, requesting an explanation of what policy options were available for this purpose.
“After receiving a detailed legal opinion from the minister to not proceed with pursuing options for granting amnesty, the premier followed that legal advice.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press