A review of internal emails shows “no evidence” of email contact between the premier’s office and Crown prosecutors regarding the handling of cases tied to a southern Alberta border blockade last year, according to a release from the province’s justice ministry.
The release states that a “comprehensive” review of almost one million incoming, outgoing and deleted emails “has not generated any records of contact.”
The review was conducted between last Friday and last Sunday by the non-partisan Public Service Commission and internal IT experts who searched for any emails sent to or received by what the release describes as “relevant prosecutors and staff in the premier’s office” over a four-month period.
It adds that no further review will follow unless additional evidence comes to light.
The review was of approximately 900 government of Alberta email accounts belonging to prosecutors, their staff and staff from the premier’s office, according to an email from Alberta Justice.
The department noted that it has “no ability” to search personal email accounts although any message sent from a personal email to a government address would have been captured in the search.
The investigation was prompted by a CBC News report last Thursday that sparked an uproar by alleging a staffer in Premier Danielle Smith’s office sent a series of emails to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, challenging its assessment and direction on cases stemming from the Coutts border blockade and protests.
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The story has been updated since it was first published to note that CBC News has not seen the emails, but it quotes multiple anonymous sources who said they have.
In a statement on Monday, Smith said she remains confident in the integrity and professionalism of her staff.
“I have full faith that the public service conducted a thorough and comprehensive review,” she said.
“An independent Crown prosecution service, free from political interference, is integral to the preservation of public confidence in the justice system.”
In a statement on Monday, Kimberley Goddard, the assistant deputy minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS), said the service “fully cooperated” with the weekend review.
“It is wrong to suggest that the ACPS has been anything but ethical and appropriate in carrying out its duties,” Goddard wrote.
“The ACPS continues to act independently while maintaining the highest ethical standards in its service to Albertans.”
Reached by phone Monday, Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC, said that the organization stands by its story.
‘This really isn’t an investigation’
Opposition New Democrats renewed their call on Monday for an independent investigation into the matter Monday, with MLA Rakhi Pancholi saying the weekend review didn’t go far enough.
“This really isn’t an investigation. Let’s be clear, what the premier has done is an IT review,” she said.
“An investigation would look into a number of issues … (and) would consider things such as could they have been sent by personal emails?”
Pancholi cited last year’s investigation into former justice minister Kaycee Madu by retired justice Adèle Kent as a precedent.
Madu was removed from cabinet, although he was later re-admitted, after he “created a reasonable perception of an interference with the administration of justice” in Kent’s view when he phoned Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee after receiving a traffic ticket.
“It can be done quickly, and it can begin to address the myriad of questions that Albertans rightfully have about whether or not this premier and her staff can be trusted,” Pancholi said, noting Smith’s review did not include any interviews.
She also took issue with the review applying only to “relevant” prosecutors when Smith implied on her weekend call-in Corus radio show that the review would cover all prosecutors.
“There’s 400 Crown prosecutors and I have 34 staff, so it’s going to take the full weekend,” Smith said on air Saturday.
“Does that mean that they only searched those emails that would have been sent to the prosecutors who are currently assigned to the Coutts charges?” Pancholi asked Monday.
“The premier should want to put an end to this as quickly as possible,” she added. “If there’s nothing to hide, she should be calling this investigation to clear the air as quickly as possible.”
Emergency caucus meeting
Smith also told her radio show Saturday that she had called an emergency caucus meeting to be held later that day.
When asked if that meeting was called to fire staff, Smith said she wanted her caucus to understand “the nature of the story.”
“I want my caucus to just be patient as we go through the process, and as soon as we see if the emails exist, then we’ll make sure that we have a presentation to the public,” said Smith, adding that CBC News did not provide her office with names.
Her statement on Monday follows a series of flip-flops over her interactions with prosecutors over the past weeks.
On two separate occasions, during an interview in December and again earlier this month, Smith said she asks provincial Crown prosecutors on a regular basis to consider whether such charges are in the public interest and whether they are likely to see a conviction.
In a subsequent statement, the premier’s office walked that claim back, saying she only spoke with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and deputy attorney general Frank Bosscha, asking them to examine their options on outstanding COVID-related cases.
During a prior radio broadcast, Smith went beyond that, saying she urged Shandro and his deputy attorney general to consider whether the cases were in the public interest and whether there was a reasonable chance of conviction before proceeding.
— with files from Lisa Johnson