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Premier pushes back against NDP's leaked cell phone video

NDP calls into question whether Smith put pressure on prosecutors to drop Coutts charges
Alberta NDP releases cell phone video and further accusations of Premier's interference in justice system. CP photo.

cell phone video leaked to Alberta’s NDP is bringing the issue of Danielle Smith's political interference in the justice system back into scrutiny.

In a news release, Alberta's NDP said the video was leaked late last week, and appears to capture a January 2023 video call between Danielle Smith and street pastor Artur Pawlowski, who faces charges of breaching a release order and mischief for inciting people to block public property at the border crossing at Coutts in January 2022.

In the video, Smith reassures Pawlowski that she continues to ask the Crown Prosecution Service if there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and if the charges are in the public interest. The news release quotes Smith as telling Pawlowski, "I can assure you; I have asked them that almost weekly ever since I got started here."

When Pawlowski tells Smith he believes his prosecution is politically motivated, she responds "I doubt very much this is being driven by the Minister."

“But I have also raised this with the Deputy Minister to let him know my dissatisfaction with the tactics so can you just leave this with me and I’ll make that request one more time? My Principal Policy Advisor Rob Anderson has been doing most of my work with Justice in pushing this along.”

Smith also tells Pawlowski that his case may still be dropped, according to the cell phone video.  

 “I’m watching to see evidence that they’re going to come to the judgment that many of these cases are unwinnable and not in the public interest… If I can just maybe make that inquiry one more time, I’ll need until next week to do that.”

“I’m very sympathetic,” Smith tells Pawlowski at one point during the call. “I am sorry to hear what they are putting you through… Just give me a few days to circle back on this.”

The NDP reports that in the video, Smith tells Pawlowski that she’s been “watching your public advocacy for many years.” 

Pawlowski’s “advocacy” includes multiple legal breaches, repeat run-ins with bylaw officers and City of Calgary officials, and ongoing homophobic campaigns against LGBTQ2S+ Albertans, according to the NDP.

In response to leak of the video, Premier Smith issued a statement Tuesday, reiterating that she respects the independent process and at no time has she communicated with Crown prosecutors. She says a CBC article about the conversation with Pawlowski is part of a 'defamatory attack against me and my office staff.'

"As I have previously stated, I had my staff work with the Ministry of Justice to determine if anything could be done to grant amnesty for those charged with non-violent, non-firearms COVID-related charges. 

“As also indicated previously in multiple interviews, I received a legal brief from the Ministry of Justice recommending against pursuing amnesty further, as several matters involving this issue were and still are before the courts. I have followed that advice." 

The Premier's office issued a statement saying there is no new information contained in the video released today, and that Alberta's Crown Prosecutors have verified neither the Premier nor her staff have ever communicated with Crown prosecutors.

Alberta NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir said the video raises more questions about the extent of political interference in the Justice system by both Smith and Anderson.

“The fact that someone accused of encouraging violence against police can get the Premier on the phone at all is extraordinary. That she greets him with such admiration says a lot about who Danielle Smith is,” said Sabir. “It’s clear that interfering in Pawlowski’s case, and the cases of the other accused Coutts blockaders is a priority for Danielle Smith and the UCP.”