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Why a Secret Recording of Danielle Smith is Blowing Up Alberta Politics Right Now

Everything you need to know about the latest bombshell revelations in Danielle Smith’s ongoing scandal over judicial interference allegations

Allegations that Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tried to interfere in criminal cases for political reasons on behalf of individuals charged with violating COVID-19 rules have been dogging Smith since January, when Smith herself told a group of reporters that she did exactly that.

Smith quickly walked the comment back and has repeatedly denied the thing she said she did ever actually happened.

Now, as CBC News first reported, there’s a newly leaked video where Smith says the Premier’s Office had been in contact with prosecutors “almost weekly.”

The video shows Smith held a call in early January with Artur Pawlowski, a far-right street preacher who is currently on trial over a speech he gave during the Coutts border blockade in Alberta and promised to intervene – Pawlowski could be facing up to ten years in prison.

Here’s everything you need to know about Danielle Smith’s ongoing scandal over judicial interference allegations.

 

Why are people comparing what Danielle Smith did to the SNC Lavalin scandal?

Concern over judicial interference from the Premier’s Office first began when Smith let slip at a press conference that she’d been in contact with Crown Prosecutors about charges related to COVID-19 violations.

Critics were alarmed and immediately drew comparisons to Justin Trudeau’s SNC Lavalin scandal, in which Trudeau and officials in the Prime Minister’s Office were accused of pressuring Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene to prevent the criminal prosecution of SNC Lavalin executives for corruption and fraud.

Like with SNC Lavalin, the call suggests the Premier attempted to undermine the justice system for political reasons. Smith went as far as to tell Pawlowski that his arrest for criminal mischief was a “political decision” and lamented that she could not offer clemency to undo it.

Experts say Smith’s actions undermine confidence in the rule of law in Alberta.

“Do we want to be governed by rule of law, or by the whim of Danielle Smith?” Danielle Boisvert, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association, recently told the Edmonton Journal.

 

How has Danielle Smith’s story changed over time?

January was not a very good month for the Premier.

It began when Smith herself volunteered information that she’d contacted Crown prosecutors to influence COVID-19 related court cases in front of a bunch of reporters, only to later deny it.

After some backlash, Smith quickly walked her comment back, now claiming that no such contact with Crown prosecutors had occurred, and that she had simply used “imprecise” language.

When emails from her office to prosecutors were reported by CBC News the following week, she denied it again, and also demanded a retraction.

If true, such political pressure would constitute a violation of judicial independence by the Premier’s office.

A subsequent probe from Alberta Justice failed to uncover evidence of the emails. The probe of emails was speedy, taking place over a weekend, and the possibility remained that any such communications could have been sent through undiscoverable channels like private email accounts.

Nevertheless, the lack of evidence allowed Smith to dismiss the allegation. CBC News had not seen the emails, and the story relied on unnamed insider sources.

The allegation faded (more or less) from the news cycle, until this week when CBC News and the Alberta NDP released the Pawlowski recording.

 

Who is Artur Pawlowski?

Pawlowski stands accused of criminal mischief for inciting the blockaders in a “fiery” sermon.

“Once the process is underway I can ask our prosecutors, ‘is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction and is it in the public interest,’ and I assure you I have asked them that almost weekly ever since I got started here,” Smith said to Pawlowski.

Pawlowski came to prominence during the pandemic for frequently violating restrictions on large public gatherings, though he was a well known anti-gay evangelical in Calgary long before that.

In 2014, current UCP MLA Ric McIver received broad condemnation for supporting a “March for Jesus” event organized by Pawlowski’s Street Church group. Pawlowski had claimed the 2013 Calgary flood was in part God’s punishment for homosexuality.

Smith herself had once described Pawlowski as “extreme” and “intolerant.”

At the time of the recording, he was weeks from his trial for criminal mischief at Coutts. He was already known to Smith.

 

Who were the other people on the call?

The introduction between Pawlowski and Smith was made by Dr. Dennis Modry, at the time the CEO of a pro-separatist group called the Alberta Prosperity Project.

Modry appeared to moderate the conversation. His right-wing separatist organization has chapters across Alberta, organized anti-lockdown events and hosted a forum for UCP leadership hopefuls in August. Outgoing finance Minister Travis Toews and MLA Rebecca Schulz bailed on the event last minute though over the group’s hard stance on Alberta independence.

Modry, who co-hosted the fundraising event, responded with a statement condemning the two leadership hopefuls for their decision to back out.

“Premier, I wanted to introduce this concept because the UCP is not Artur’s enemy, it’s the NDP, but he does have a problem that he does think you may be able to help out with,” Modry told her.

Pawlowski wasn’t the only person Modry put in touch with the Premier that day. Towards the end of the recording, he says “don’t go away, Danielle,” and sets up another call, this one with Randy Royer, a large donor to the Alberta First Initiative that’s been running pro-Smith attack ads.

Royer, a former Alberta Party leadership candidate, told PressProgress he spoke to the Premier about his new book on Alberta Sovereignty.

 

What exactly did Danielle Smith and Artur Pawlowski discuss?

The call offers a look at who the Premier talks to behind the scenes, and there were a few interesting details.

The 11 minute conversation directly contradicts Smith’s statements in January.

By Smith’s own admission, not only had she been in contact with prosecutors, she had been doing so “weekly.” Multiple times in the conversation, Pawlowski was explicitly assured by Smith that there were continuing efforts to pressure Crown prosecutors to drop charges against him.

The problem, as Smith explained to Pawlowski, was that as Premier she had discovered there were limits to her power. When pressed on the issue, Smith repeatedly told Pawlowski that she was doing what she could on his behalf despite the limitations.

Ironically, Smith also drew a comparison to the SNC Lavalin scandal.

“We’re in a bit of a bind,” Smith told Pawlowski. “Because of what happened with Jody Wilson-Raybould and the Prime Minister, because what we discovered in how our justice system works is I don’t really have the power of clemency the way a US president or governor of the united states has, it’s not quite the way our system works.”

Pawloski offered his own solution.

“Have you ever considered going public, like you said at the very beginning that you were going to meet with us pastors, and there’s going to be a dropping of the charges and compensation?” he asked. “Have you considered meeting with us publicly and say ‘hey lets move forward and enough of this witch hunt.’”

Smith replied: “Let me talk to Rob about that. The problem is that’s how the Prime Minister got himself in such hot water, because he was in a position that he asked the same questions I did.”

As Pawlowski pressed for help, Smith said “leave this with me” and repeatedly assured him she would task her key advisor Rob Anderson, who was on vacation at the time, with this case. Smith said she would follow up, offering to reconnect with Pawlowski the next week.

 

What is Danielle Smith’s Response?

Smith attempted to get ahead of the story before it was published, tweeting out her condemnation of CBC News in a similar manner as with her response when CBC first reported on the emails.

The Premier accused CBC of running a “campaign of defamatory attacks” against her.

A hasty Alberta government press release was sent out, followed by another correcting a factual error in the previous one.

Anderson, the Executive Director of Smith’s Office, also took to Twitter to attack journalists and threaten people with lawsuits.

Tweeting Wednesday, Anderson said “at no time have I contacted the Crown Prosecution Service regarding this or any other related matter, and to my knowledge, I do not recall speaking with anyone charged with ongoing COVID related offences.”

“The NDP’s, and any other party’s, direct or insinuated allegations to the contrary are defamatory and will be treated accordingly in the near future.”

 

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Stephen Magusiak
Reporter
Stephen Magusiak is PressProgress’ Alberta reporter. His reporting has a focus on public accountability, public services and privatization, and the right-wing war on environmentalists.

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