Alberta Justice says probe uncovered no evidence of emails between Smith’s office, Crown prosecutors

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Alberta Justice says probe uncovered no evidence of emails between Smith’s office, Crown prosecutors
The Alberta government said an internal review showed there's no proof of contact between Premier Danielle Smith's office and the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service. The premier says she's confident in its findings but not everyone agrees. Morgan Black reports. – Jan 23, 2023

No record of electronic communication between Premier Danielle Smith’s office and the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) has been found after allegations reported last week were probed, according to Alberta Justice.

In a news release issued Monday, the government department said the Alberta Public Service had undertaken a “comprehensive review of emails” regarding the matter, searching for “any emails sent to or received by the relevant prosecutors and staff in the premier’s office over a four-month period.”

READ MORE: Internal review of emails between province, crown prosecutors not enough: NDP, experts

Concerns were raised last week after the CBC reported that a source told them they had seen emails they alleged were sent from a staffer in Smith’s office to the ACPS, challenging prosecutors on their judgment regarding cases relating to a blockade by the Canada-U.S. border near Coutts, Alta., last year.

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“No further review will be conducted unless additional evidence is brought forward,” Alberta Justice said on Monday.

“The search included all emails in the (Government of Alberta) mailboxes including emails sent from or to a non-(Government of Alberta) email address,” said an Alberta Justice spokesperson, who also confirmed the Public Service Commission did not conduct any interviews in the case.

‘It’s a coverup’

Despite the province’s announcement that no emails were found between Crown prosecutors and the premier’s office, Opposition MLA Rakhi Pancholi called on the premier and justice minister to launch a fully independent investigation into possible political interference in the administration of justice.

“This really isn’t an investigation — it’s an IT review,” Pancholi said.

She said this request isn’t just about the emails — it’s the culmination of statements the premier has made since she came to office in October, regarding Crown prosecutors and prosecutions  related to COVID-19.

The premier initially said earlier this month that she had contacted Crown prosecutors over COVID-19 prosecutions then backpedalled on her comments a few days later, saying she only ever spoke to the solicitor general and his deputy.

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Pancholi said the premier needs to put an end to speculation over whether someone from her office contacted Crown prosecutors, and added that she should be wanting to do that if there isn’t anything to hide. Pancholi said she believes the situation looks like a “coverup” as of Monday morning.

“The fact that she refuses to do so lends to the idea that she has something to hide,” the MLA said.

A lawyer herself, Pancholi said Albertans deserve to know whether the premier understands the rule of law. She added that it should go without saying that Albertans should be able to trust their premier.

Pancholi added that she believes even just contacting the solicitor general about these cases is still political interference.

Click to play video: 'Smith responds to allegations staff member emailed Crown Prosecutors over Coutts blockade'
Smith responds to allegations staff member emailed Crown Prosecutors over Coutts blockade

Smith issued a statement on the findings of the review on Monday.

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“I am confident in the integrity and professionalism of my staff,” Smith said. “That’s why I am grateful for the non-partisan review completed this weekend by the Public Service Commission, which found no records of contact between the premier’s office and Crown prosecutors.

“I have full faith that the public service conducted a thorough and comprehensive review. I would like to thank them for the seriousness with which they took this matter as well as their commitment to working non-stop over the past number days to provide Albertans with results to put their concerns to rest.

“An independent Crown prosecution service, free from political interference, is integral to the preservation of public confidence in the justice system.”

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Kimberley Goddard, the assistant deputy minister of the ACPS, said the service “fully co-operated” with the public servants who completed the review.

“Continued suggestions of impropriety without evidence are not warranted,” she said in an email. “This unsubstantiated speculation harms the reputation of the ACPS and does a disservice to the dedicated professionals in ACPS who carry out their work with unwavering integrity.

“It is wrong to suggest that the ACPS has been anything but ethical and appropriate in carrying out its duties.”

Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said “the premier’s stance and the little bits we heard out of the (UCP) caucus meeting (over the weekend) really did suggest that it was unlikely the emails were going to be found on the government system — there was a degree of confidence about that.”

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This moves the focus away from the premier and over to the CBC, which decided to run the story without seeing the emails, she said.

In a story Monday, Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC, said it stands behind the journalism in its story.

“For Smith, politically, she’s able to say… an allegation was made, we investigated, we didn’t find anything, end of story, let’s move on,” Young said.

“But I don’t think the story goes away quite that easily,” she added. “We’re left with the question of whether emails do exist but not on the government email system.”

She continued that the focus might shift to the Crown prosecutors’ office to answer the question of whether there has been any political influence on the Crown prosecutors’ service but through other channels besides the government email system.

And even if the CBC didn’t come out with its story, people would still be questioning Smith’s comments on this matter, Young said.

“Now, because the CBC’s story has become the focus, it in some ways allows her to shift the attention away from her misstatement and clarification.

Going forward, the province will likely shift the conversation towards “something more favourable for the party with the (upcoming) election,” Young said.

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–with files from The Canadian Press

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