Alberta minister Tyler Shandro takes stand at law society conduct hearing

Click to play video: 'Alberta minister Tyler Shandro takes stand at law society conduct hearing'
Alberta minister Tyler Shandro takes stand at law society conduct hearing
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro took the stand Wednesday, on the second day of the Law Society of Alberta’s hearing into his conduct while health minister in early 2020. Dan Grummett reports on Day 2. – Jan 25, 2023

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said Tyler Shandro wasn’t home when CPS members came to visit, to follow up on threats made to his wife. He was in attendance for that visit. We regret the error.

Tyler Shandro took the stand Wednesday, on the second day of the Law Society of Alberta’s (LSA) tribunal hearing into his conduct while health minister in early 2020.

The citations include behaving “inappropriately” while visiting the Calgary home of Dr. Mukarram Zaidi on March 21, 2020; obtaining and using the personal cell phone numbers of two doctors after a Feb. 26, 2020 press conference at the Red Deer Regional Hospital; and his email response threatening to refer the individual to “protective services” in response to a message sent to his wife on March 20, 2020.

Shandro’s first day of testimony was the first time the former health minister provided his perspective on those events and the context around them.

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Red Deer ruckus

The now justice minister said at the Red Deer hospital, his exit after the press conference was redirected by the premier’s security detail.

That’s where he had the interaction with Dr. John Julyan-Gudgeon and Dr. Lauralee Dukeshire while trying to enter a freight elevator with the minister, premier and entourage.

“I admittedly did want to just get (the conversations with the doctors) over with – meeting with those physicians, allowing them to be heard even if they’re angry,” Shandro said.

“I was actually kind of annoyed I was taken with (the premier’s security) and not allowed to engage with these folks.”

Click to play video: 'Doctors testify at law society hearing into past conduct by Tyler Shandro: ‘How did he track me down?’'
Doctors testify at law society hearing into past conduct by Tyler Shandro: ‘How did he track me down?’

Shandro said a man who was loudly reading from a sheet, who was later identified as Dr. Julyan-Gudgeon, was “yelling” and “quite agitated” while he read his statement.

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Earlier on Wednesday during the completion of his testimony, Julyan-Gudgeon disagreed with Shandro’s lawyer Grant Stapon that he was yelling.

“I talk loudly, I project well… I wasn’t yelling,” the former armed forces doctor said, adding he was often nervous while speaking in public.

Under cross-examination, the Red Deer doctor said he did not speak with Dukeshire before or after the incident at his hospital, and had only a “vague recollection” of her being there.

“Any suggestion that we worked together is really baseless,” he said.

Shandro testified he called Julyan-Gudgeon and then Dukeshire the following day, while driving home to Calgary from Edmonton in the late afternoon and early evening, timing that appears to run contrary to Julyan-Gudgeon’s recollection of receiving the call while in bed reading – an activity the doctor typically does around 9 p.m.

Shandro said since the time of his 2019 campaign to become MLA of Calgary-Acadia, he refrains from calling people after 8 p.m.

Chain of communication

Testimony from Shandro and AHS VP of communications Colleen Turner appeared to corroborate text messages read out on Tuesday that the health minister requested Turner find out who the doctors were and that the minister wanted to speak with them.

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Turner said she had an AHS staff member contact the hospital for the doctors’ names and phone numbers, personal information that was passed along by a hospital staff member.

Turner said she wasn’t informed if the numbers she was provided were business or personal, nor did she ask. She also said if she knew there was confidentiality or consent issues with the contact information, she wouldn’t have provided it to the minister.

“I believed that I was connecting two parties that wanted to have a conversation,” Turner said.

Click to play video: 'Alberta health minister and family confronted by demonstrators at Canada Day celebration'
Alberta health minister and family confronted by demonstrators at Canada Day celebration

On Tuesday, Julyan-Gudgeon and Dukeshire said they did not request, expect or consent to a phone call from the minister in late February 2020.

Julyan-Gudgeon said that there are specific circumstances in which he would expect extraordinary calls from health officials, but that February evening was not one.

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“The minister of health was not calling out an emergency call to action to physicians regarding some medical crisis,” Julyan-Gudgen said Wednesday. “He was seeking that info, at least I presume as such, he was seeking that info in order to communicate to his critics.”

On April 27, 2020, the AHS chief privacy officer determined the sharing of personal cell phone numbers, provided to the hospital for emergency purposes, was a breach of the Alberta Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Shandro said he believed he was calling the doctors as a politician and not as a lawyer.

“There was a constituency that wanted to have their voices heard,” Shandro, who was called to the bar in 2005, said.

Shandro’s statement to the LSA when the code of conduct allegations first came up included points that “the telephone numbers were business related” and “the physicians accepted my business call for the purposes of business.”

Julyan-Gudgeon described the phone call from the minister to his private cell phone a “breach of professionality.”

On Wednesday, Shandro said part of his assumptions of being able to call doctors was based on his experience as the son of a physician, and the measures available at that time for the hospital to contact his father.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta health minister under fire for confrontation with Calgary doctor'
Alberta health minister under fire for confrontation with Calgary doctor

Threatening emails

Janice Fraser, who served as a manager of a pair of Calgary constituency offices in the 2010s, first met Shandro at a criminal injuries review board during an appeal.

A member of that board from 2005 to 2011, Shandro wrote an appeal decision in Fraser’s favour.

“I was impressed by his understanding of the issues in his write-up,” Fraser told the tribunal. “I reached out to him personally and sent an email to him to thank him for that empathetic ear.”

When Shandro was preparing for his ultimately successful campaign to become MLA, he asked for Fraser’s support, which she agreed to. She characterized the interactions to that point as “warm.”

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Shandro recalled first interacting with Fraser during his work on the review board.

Fraser said she became aware of the allegations of conflict of interest between Shandro as then-health minister and the Shandro family’s holdings in Vital Partners, a third-party health benefits broker.

Shandro characterized the allegations surrounding Vital Partners and his wife, and the alleged profit from government changes to health-care coverage, from screenshots of public ethics commission filings on social media, calling them “quite a web of conspiracy theory” that Fraser appeared to be caught up in.

Fraser was not asked directly about any “conspiracy theories,” but when asked how she learned about the allegations, said she heard about them in the media and was unaware of the social media activity about them.

Click to play video: 'NDP calls for Alberta minister to resign after contacting doctor on personal phone'
NDP calls for Alberta minister to resign after contacting doctor on personal phone

Fraser said she disagreed with the ethics commissioner’s finding of no conflict of interest, saying there “should have been a cooling-off period” before he took office. In March 2020, the ethics commissioner found Shandro held his 50 per cent of voting shares in Vital Partners in a blind trust and was in line with legislative requirements.

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On March 20, 2020, she reached out to the minister’s wife via a public-facing contact form on the company’s website.

“Dear Andrea- you and your husband Tyler Shandro (who I used to have a tremendous personal and professional respect of up until 2020) are considered to be in a conflict of interest by Albertans. We will not forget! Sincerely, Janet Fraser.”

Fraser said she thought it her responsibility as a politically-engaged Albertan and an acquaintance of the minister’s “to hold them to account,” given their connection to Vital Partners.

“I’m not one to make anonymous comments,” Fraser said. “I’m a pretty straightforward person. I consider myself to have a high level of integrity. I had nothing to hide.”

She added the “We will not forget” line was in reference to Albertans not forgetting at the polls, and said she didn’t view that as physically threatening.

Shandro and his wife took the meaning as threatening.

“Andrea’s name wasn’t on the ballot,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Video shows confrontation between Alberta health minister family and protestors'
Video shows confrontation between Alberta health minister family and protestors

But Fraser said she had a visceral response to the reply she received from the health minister an hour after she submitted the web form, an email that addressed her by first name.

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“Sending threatening emails to my wife is completely inappropriate and must stop,” he wrote.

“If you want to believe lies about her on social media, that’s up to you. But you can send your threatening emails to this office and this office only.

“Email her again and it will be referred to protective services.”

Fraser took “protective services” to mean the police and, with her personal history with PTSD and being a victim of people in positions of power, she said she began to shake.

“It petrified me,” she testified. “I was quite shocked that he would say that because he knew my past.”

On Wednesday, he said he didn’t previously know Fraser suffered from PTSD.

Shandro said he received the email while at the legislature in Edmonton.

He said he was surprised to see someone he knew sending his wife messages, given that Fraser had his publicly-available email address, adding he viewed emailing his spouse was “inherently threatening.” That was part of why he asked her to email him directly.

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“If she had concerns with government policy, if she wanted to send emails about this conspiracy theory, she’s welcome to do so, but she can send it to our office,” Shandro told the tribunal. “I included the ministry assistant (Chad Hallman) for our office, allowing him to engage and leave me out of this.”

Shandro said that week his wife had been receiving numerous threats of physical violence, sexual violence and even death, and it culminated in an individual visiting the Vital Partners offices threatening to cause harm to his wife.

Shandro said members of the Calgary Police Service visited their home because of the threats, after he was able to return from Edmonton.

Fraser said she found the association between her message and the death threats “irrelevant” given she made no such threats.

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Shandro’s testimony was paused Wednesday afternoon and will continue Thursday. Shandro’s wife Andrea is also expected to provide her account of events.

‘A huge differential of power’

Fraser said she contacted the CBC to “go public” as a means of protecting herself from backlash from the minister and government.

“I was protecting myself as a single woman in a huge differential of power,” Fraser told Grant Stapon, the lawyer for Shandro.

Shandro described Fraser going to the media as politically-motivated, “to assist the Opposition in being able to criticize me publicly for the allegation.”

Fraser also replied back to Shandro and Hallman later that afternoon, which she also sent to the Calgary Police Service, the Sargeant-at-Arms, the Opposition and the mayor of Calgary. In it, she said her initial message to Shandro’s wife “was not to agitate but to inform a public company for-profit that their choices are known to Albertans.”

“If I had been actually threatening, then protocol would determine that this would go to Sargeant-at-Arms for review and they should be contacting me, neither of you should be!” she wrote.

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Only the LSA and members of the media contacted Fraser after the email exchange, not Shandro nor the Sargeant-at-Arms.

Fraser said having first been introduced to Shandro in his capacity as a lawyer was how she viewed the current justice minister.

“I would never hire Tyler Shandro as a lawyer again or (have him) represent me in any way professionally, personally or legally, ever, because he has displayed a complete incapacity to separate personal legal professionalism and politics,” she said.

The code of conduct hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday and could go later in the week.

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