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Kenney strips Alberta justice minister of duties, orders probe into call to police chief over traffic ticket

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister demoted, probe ordered into call to police chief over traffic ticket'
Alberta justice minister demoted, probe ordered into call to police chief over traffic ticket
WATCH: Hours after it was reported that Alberta’s justice minister had called Edmonton’s police chief to discuss a distracted driving ticket he was given, Premier Jason Kenney announced he was removing Kaycee Madu from the cabinet post, pending the outcome of a probe into the matter. Tom Vernon has more – Jan 18, 2022

Hours after it was reported that Alberta’s justice minister had called Edmonton’s police chief to discuss a distracted driving ticket he was given, Premier Jason Kenney announced he was removing Kaycee Madu from the cabinet post, pending the outcome of a probe into the matter.

“I will appoint a respected independent investigator to review the relevant facts and to determine whether there was interference in the administration of justice in this case,” Kenney tweeted late Monday night. “In the interim period, I have asked Minister Madu to step back from his ministerial duties.

(Energy) Minister Sonya Savage will act as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General during Minister Madu’s leave of absence.”

Earlier in the evening, Madu issued a statement about the ticket he received last year and why he called Edmonton’s police chief about it after.

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“To be abundantly clear, at no point did I request that the ticket be rescinded,” Kaycee Madu said in a statement issued Monday night. “I would never do that.

“However, in that particular call, I regret raising the issue at all with the (Edmonton Police Service) Chief (Dale) McFee.”

Global News first reached out to Madu’s office for comment on the matter Monday afternoon after CBC News broke the story about both the ticket and the phone call to McFee.

Global News has obtained a copy of the ticket Madu was issued. In a section of the ticket that says “description,” an officer had written in “distracted driving- cellphone.” The ticket says the alleged offence occurred at 9:25 a.m. in a school zone.

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister ‘steps back’ after calling Edmonton police chief over ticket'
Alberta justice minister ‘steps back’ after calling Edmonton police chief over ticket

In a statement issued to Global News, the EPS confirmed Madu was handed a distracted driving ticket on March 10, 2021. However, further details about the incident were not disclosed.

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“Minister Madu had concerns about the context of the traffic stop,” an EPS spokesperson said. “To be clear, he did not ask the chief to rescind the ticket.

“The ticket remains valid and was issued correctly.”

Madu said he paid the ticket “promptly” and in full and added he has “the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, and for the invaluable, often thankless role they perform.”

“On the morning of March 10, shortly after leaving my home, I was pulled over by an officer of the Edmonton Police Service,” he said in his statement. “The officer indicated that he had observed me driving while distracted, alleging that I was on my phone. I disagreed, stating that I was not on my phone, as it was in an inside pocket.

“Later, I spoke to Chief Dale McFee. Due to the timing of the incident, I wanted to ensure that I was not being unlawfully surveilled following the controversy surrounding the Lethbridge Police Service. I also raised concerns around profiling of racial minorities that was in the media at the time.

“Chief McFee assured me that that was most definitely not the case, and I accepted him at his word,” said Madu, who is Black.

READ MORE: Public inquiry into Lethbridge Police Service to focus on ‘policies, procedures and practices’

Earlier Monday, Opposition justice critic Irfan Sabir said he believes Madu should step down over the call.

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“Minister Kaycee Madu must resign,” the NDP MLA said in a news release issued Monday afternoon. “It is wholly unacceptable for the Attorney General to engage with senior law enforcement regarding a penalty levied against him.”

READ MORE: Upcoming changes to Alberta traffic courts ‘removing access to justice’: critics

“Regular Alberta drivers do not have the ability to call their local police chief and discuss traffic tickets,” Sabir said. “Madu used his position as minister to initiate this conversation, and regardless of whether he asked the chief to cancel the ticket, it is political interference for him to have discussed it all.

“There is a long-standing parliamentary precedent that prohibits this kind of behaviour. It is inappropriate for any cabinet minister to interfere in the administration of justice, even more so when it’s directly related to their own personal self-interest, and it’s utterly unacceptable when that interference is committed by the Attorney General.”

Click to play video: 'Kenney strips Alberta justice minister of duties, orders probe into call to police chief over traffic ticket'
Kenney strips Alberta justice minister of duties, orders probe into call to police chief over traffic ticket

Kenney said he spoke to Madu about the concerns and “conveyed to him my profound disappointment in his decision to contact the Edmonton police chief after receiving a ticket for a traffic violation.”

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He acknowledged that both Madu and McFee said there was no request to have the ticket rescinded, but noted “it’s essential the independent administration of justice is maintained.”

Kenney added that details about the review looking into Madu’s actions will be made public “in the near future.”

On Tuesday, Sabir said Kenney putting Madu on a “leave of absence” does not sufficiently address the situation and reiterated his call for Madu to resign from his post.

“Stepping back is not the same as stepping down,” he said in a news release.

Sabir also called on Kenney to tell Albertans what he knew about Madu’s ticket and subsequent phone call to McFee and when.

“He needs to come out publicly and state for the record when he and his cabinet were first informed of Madu’s actions,” he said.

Sabir also questioned what purpose a publicly-funded investigation would serve when both Madu and McFee confirmed the phone call was made.

A spokesperson with Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi’s office said the mayor would not be commenting on the situation.

However, the mayor is concerned that Edmonton no longer has a seat at the cabinet table. Madu was the lone Edmonton UCP MLA in Kenney’s cabinet.

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The spokesperson said Sohi will continue to build his relationship with the provincial government to ensure Edmonton continues to be represented.

Political scientist says Madu had to resign or be removed from post

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, spoke to Global News prior to Madu issuing a statement and Kenney tweeting about the matter. He said not only does the call to McFee raise concerns, but the ticket itself does also.

“The ticket in itself is bad,” he told Global News. “The reason it’s bad is you’re the justice minister. The Alberta government has talked about the importance of distracted driving and penalties for distracted driving.”

However, Bratt said the phone call is the most problematic part of what he has heard about the events in question.

“Ministers of the Crown — especially a justice minister — do not call judges (and) they do not call police chiefs,” he said. “(There is a) huge power imbalance (when the minister calls the police chief).

“He needs to step down. Either he needs to resign on his own or (Premier) Jason Kenney needs to fire him. You cannot have this sort of behaviour.”

Bratt said if Madu does step down or is removed from his ministerial post, such a development “creates a lot of moving parts.”

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“In cabinet, if you have a senior minister step down, that creates a whole shuffle,” he said.

“Either he (Madu) was unaware that this was inappropriate behaviour — which is bad, for a justice minister to not know that they shouldn’t be interfering in the judicial system like this — or he knew it and he simply didn’t care, and that’s even worse.”

Bratt noted that Madu bringing up the investigation into the Lethbridge Police Service also raises questions. He also said that if Madu believes he was being racially profiled by police, or that the practice is a problem with the Edmonton Police Service, “that’s a pretty big issue.”

“Such a big issue that maybe it goes with a much fuller debate, a fuller investigation instead of a private phone call that’s about you to the police chief,” he said.

“And so I think that’s a problem as well. I think we need an explanation.”

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