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Kenney declines comment on cabinet minister lauding "freedom convoy" protesters

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is declining to weigh in on one of his cabinet ministers lauding protesters and “freedom convoys” fighting COVID-19 restrictions.
The premier is declining to weigh in on one of his cabinet ministers lauding protesters and “freedom convoys” fighting COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is declining to weigh in on one of his cabinet ministers lauding protesters and “freedom convoys” fighting COVID-19 restrictions.

“I actually don’t monitor Twitter,” said Kenney, speaking to reporters in Toronto Wednesday, while pitching a renewed ad campaign to get more Canadians to move to Alberta.

“If you want to hear (Labour) Minister (Kaycee) Madu’s views or a clarification from him, I suggest you talk to him.”

Madu made the comments on Twitter Tuesday, reacting to news the federal government is debating whether to renew COVID-19 vaccine mandates and mandatory random testing for travellers when those rules expire at month’s end.

“It (the slate of restrictions) was never about science but about political control and power,” Madu tweeted.

“Thanks to all those citizens, freedom convoys, who had the courage to mobilize against these tyrannical policies. They endured a lot (of) hate (and) name calling, suffered and vilified on behalf of all of us. I thank them!”

Madu’s office didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

He has served in cabinet since the start of Kenney’s government in 2019 in three portfolios: municipal affairs, justice and now labour.

Madu became labour minister in late February, when Kenney removed him from the justice portfolio after an independent report determined Madu had tried — but failed — to interfere in the administration of justice by calling up Edmonton’s chief of police to complain about a traffic ticket.

Alberta had its own COVID-19 restrictions, gathering limits and vaccine mandates during the pandemic.

As justice minister in May 2021, Madu, who is also a lawyer, told reporters that while he doesn’t direct police and prosecutors, "it is my expectation that law enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service will deploy all tools available to them to ensure that the (COVID) public health orders are enforced."

Kenney will cease to be in charge in two weeks, when United Conservative Party members pick a new leader and premier on Oct. 6.

Madu is backing leadership candidate Danielle Smith. Smith has promised to reject any COVID-19 rules and restrictions deemed harmful to Alberta's autonomy and well-being.

Alberta’s main U.S. border crossing at Coutts was one of a number of sites — along with downtown Ottawa — that were snarled earlier this year by “Freedom Convoy” protesters demonstrating against the Trudeau government and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The Coutts standoff paralyzed cross-border traffic for two weeks, ending in mid-February soon after RCMP made mass arrests and seized a cache of firearms and ammunition near the protest site.

A trial has been scheduled for June of next year for four men charged with conspiracy to commit murder at the blockade.

Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said on Twitter: “Kaycee Madu needs to go. He should’ve been removed from the cabinet for interfering in the administration of justice (in the traffic ticket incident).”

Kenney agreed with Madu on the travel rules. At present, foreign nationals are typically not allowed to travel to Canada unless they have completed a primary series of approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Unvaccinated travellers allowed to enter Canada are subject to mandatory arrival tests and a two-week quarantine.

“It’s no secret that our government has been consistently opposed to unnecessary federal travel restrictions, specifically the ones that are still in place,” said Kenney.

He said he and other premiers made their concerns clear to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that there was no scientific rationale for the rules. Kenney said Trudeau wanted to be seen taking action on the pandemic.

"It has been clear to me from the beginning that at least this latest round of travel restrictions were political and optical, not about reducing transmission," said Kenney.

"I think it’s become a huge inconvenience."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press