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Timeline of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and controversy over COVID court cases

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has been accused of interference in the province's justice system. Here is a timeline of events: Feb.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith holds a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has been accused of interference in the province's justice system. Here is a timeline of events:

Feb. 3, 2022 — Calgary street pastor Artur Pawlowski gives a speech to COVID-19 protesters at a blockade at the Canada-United States border crossing at Coutts, Alta. He is later charged with breaching a release order and mischief for allegedly inciting people to block public property at Coutts. He is also charged under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act with wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure.

Oct. 6, 2022 — Smith, long critical of COVID-19 masking, gathering and vaccine mandate rules, wins the leadership of the United Conservative Party and becomes premier.

Dec. 21, 2022 -- In year-end interview with Rebel News, Smith says she has asked and continues to ask Crown prosecutors as COVID-19 court cases come up whether the cases are winnable and in the public interest. 

Early January 2023 – Smith tells Pawlowski in a leaked phone call that charges in his criminal case were politically motivated. She shares his concern that the Crown is trying to damage his defence with late-stage “document dump” tactics. She promises to make inquires on his behalf and report back to him. She tells him she is contacting Crown prosecutors “almost weekly” to remind them cases have to be winnable and in the public interest.

Jan. 12 — Smith is asked by reporters why she has not followed through on a United Conservative Party leadership campaign pledge to pardon COVID-19 protesters. She says Crown prosecutors must be left to pursue cases independently, but she talks to them on a regular basis as new cases arise. The Justice Department responds in a statement saying Smith has discussed cases with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and Deputy Attorney General Frank Bosscha — as is appropriate — but has never spoken directly with prosecutors. 

Jan. 13 – Smith says she never spoke to prosecutors directly and attributes the confusion to her wording. “My language may have been imprecise.”

Jan. 14 — Smith reiterates on her radio call-in show that she has not contacted prosecutors directly. “I’ve never called a Crown prosecutor. You’re not allowed to do that as a politician. Everyone knows that.”

Jan. 16  — Smith tells the Shaun Newman podcast that she is not pursuing amnesty for COVID-19 rule breakers because she can’t do that under Canada’s criminal justice system. She says people may have been influenced into thinking she could because they mistook it for the U.S. system.

Jan. 19 — CBC reports an individual in Smith’s office sent a series of emails to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service challenging prosecutors’ assessment and direction on cases tied to the Coutts blockade. CBC later says it did not view the emails but stands by its story.

Jan. 21 — Smith announces a civil service review of emails between prosecutors and her office. Two days later, Smith and the Justice Department announce the search turned up no evidence of the premier's office trying to influence Coutts prosecutors.

Jan. 25 — Alberta Justice says while the email investigation went back four months, any deleted emails would have been kept in the system for 30 days, in effect failing to capture much of the time period in question.

Jan. 25 – CBC publishes a story citing multiple anonymous sources alleging Smith pressured Shandro and his office to intervene in COVID-related court cases. Smith demands the CBC retract “baseless” allegations from its Jan. 19 story.

Jan. 26 — Alberta Justice revises its statement on deleted emails, saying such emails would live on for 60 days in the system, not 30. However, the department refuses to say whether the search went back 30 or 60 days.

Feb. 2 – Pawlowski goes on trial in Lethbridge, Alta., and the judge reserves a verdict.

Feb. 9 — Smith, asked by reporters whether she had spoken to Pawlowski earlier this year, confirms she has. She says she told him she explored amnesty but it was not possible.

Feb. 10 — The province announces Bosscha is leaving his job to become a provincial court judge.

March 29 — Alberta's Opposition NDP, after obtaining a leaked copy of the January call with Smith and Pawlowski, plays it for reporters. The NDP renews its call for an investigation into the premier’s involvement with the justice system.

March 30 — Deputy premier Kaycee Madu defends the call, saying as long as Smith is working for the greater good of Alberta she can contact whomever she wants.

March 31 – NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir writes to ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler asking her to investigate whether Smith, through the Pawlowski call, violated the Conflicts of Interest Act provision forbidding politicians from using their offices to further the interests of close third parties.

April 3 — Smith says she is considering suing for defamation and as a result, on the advice of her lawyer, won’t comment further. A day prior, Smith’s lawyer sends a demand letter to CBC calling for it to retract and apologize for its March 29 story on the Pawlowski call, saying the story resuscitates "irresponsible reporting" from the Jan. 19 story. CBC stands by its reporting.

April 4 – Smith says the UCP, not the government, is funding the possible legal action against the CBC but declines to say why.

April 6 — Smith tells reporters it is not appropriate for politicians to contact accused on active criminal cases. But she says her call with Pawlowski was OK because it’s her job as a politician to talk to Albertans and address their concerns.

April 8 — Smith tells her radio call-in show that she thought she would be talking to Pawlowski in his role as the leader of the fringe Alberta Independence Party, suggesting she was surprised when he brought up his court case. She says she strongly disagrees with Pawlowski’s “extreme views” despite telling him on the call, “I've been watching your public advocacy for many years so it's nice to connect with you.''

April 10 — Smith announces she is under investigation by Trussler over a COVID-19 prosecution, promises to co-operate and expects to be exonerated. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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