Meghan Grant – CBC News
NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir, right, has called on the privacy commissioner to investigate the premier’s office records management practices after an email probe last month raised questions about the thoroughness of the search. (CBC)
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she has spoken directly with people charged with pandemic-related offences, including Artur Pawlowski, but adds she simply explained to the street preacher that her office was unable to grant him amnesty.
Smith was speaking Thursday afternoon at a news conference on federal funding for provincial health care.
Pawlowski faces two counts of criminal mischief and a charge under Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act related to 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 has previously reported that Smith has pressured the attorney general and his office to intervene in COVID-related court cases, specifically, Pawlowski’s.
“I’ve talked to everyone who has concerns about some of the enforcement orders that are against them,” said Smith on Thursday.
“I’m taking the advice of my attorney general and that we’ll have to wait for the process to play out.”
‘The same thing that I’ve always said’
In trying to get to the bottom of when her conversation with Pawlowski happened, a reporter at the press conference asked about it.
“Did you speak to Art Pawlowski, an individual who was charged and before the court right now in this calendar year, and if so, what did you say to him?” the reporter asked.
“I did say yes and I said the same thing that I’ve always said, that I had sought the opportunity to seek amnesty,” Smith replied. “I was told by my justice minister amnesty is not available to a premier.”
Smith went on to say she is awaiting a key court decision that will determine whether the province’s pandemic restrictions violated Albertans’ constitutional rights.
Privacy commissioner asked to investigate
Earlier in the day, the NDP justice critic called on Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner to investigate the premier’s office after “contradictory statements” were made following an email probe into whether Smith’s office interfered with Crown prosecutors.
In a letter dated Feb. 9, MLA Irfan Sabir asked the commissioner to look into the office’s records management practices following an email search in January.
The search was ordered by Smith after CBC News reported an office staffer sent emails to the Crown’s office, challenging its assessment and direction on court cases connected to last year’s Coutts border blockade and protests. CBC News has not viewed the emails.
Sabir has asked the privacy commissioner to ensure Smith’s office is complying with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Last month, a weekend search of nearly a million government emails found no evidence of contact between the premier’s office staff and the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, according to the justice ministry.
But in the days that followed, details on the scope of the email review raised questions about its thoroughness.
Justice spokesperson Charles Mainville wouldn’t specify whether all of the premier’s office staff and all Crown prosecutors were included in the search. He also wouldn’t give details on the exact search terms used in the probe.
Alberta Justice issued conflicting statements about whether deleted emails remain within the system for 30 or 60 days, leaving the possibility open that emails deleted before Dec. 22 may not have been found in the search.
“This admission by the government that emails may have been deleted and contradictory statements regarding record retention raise serious questions about the records management practices of the government and the integrity of the investigation conducted by the Office of the Premier,” wrote Sabir.
900 email accounts searched
Alberta Justice did say the email search included 900 mailboxes and would capture any messages sent between Government of Alberta addresses and non-government accounts.
Crown prosecutor emails were searched between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, and premier’s office emails were searched between Oct. 6 and Dec. 31. Smith won the UCP leadership on Oct. 6.
The government also delivered conflicting messages on which email accounts were targeted in the review.
Smith said emails from all Crown prosecutors and the 34 staffers in her office would be reviewed.
However, the Justice Department later said emails between “relevant” prosecutors and Smith staffers were checked. It did not say how it determined who was relevant.
Smith has said she did not direct prosecutors in the Coutts cases and the email review exonerated her office from what she called “baseless” allegations in the CBC story.
The premier twice said she spoke to prosecutors about charges related to pandemic health violations, including at a Jan. 12 press conference when Smith said she had asked Crown prosecutors “on a regular basis, as new cases come out, is it in the public interest to pursue and is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction?”
Smith later said she had used “imprecise” language, and had never communicated directly with prosecutors — only Attorney General Tyler Shandro and his deputy attorney general.