As settings go, it was unremarkable — a cluttered conference table in an otherwise nondescript Alberta law office.
What was happening at that table, however, was remarkable, and likely without precedent — a sitting Alberta justice minister, answering questions about whether his behaviour brought the legal profession into disrepute.
Tyler Shandro began testimony Wednesday afternoon in his Law Society of Alberta tribunal hearing.
Shandro, who is currently serving as minister of justice, is accused of breaching the society’s code of conduct by contacting doctors and other members of the public in February and March 2020, when he was minister of health.
The incidents occurred around the time the Government of Alberta made the controversial decision to end its 2012 agreement with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).
Shandro described what he called an “extreme” response from the AMA to the move. He said the AMA’s advocacy at times “became very personal” and led him to take action, both to engage with upset doctors and protect his family from what he considered a campaign of harassment.
During direct examination by lawyer Grant Stapon, Shandro said one board member of the AMA “had created the idea that I had killed a physician.”
“Had killed a physician, you personally?” Stapon replied.
Shandro added there were 1,000 pages of threats against himself and his family in his security adviser’s file, describing one incident in which a man allegedly visited his wife’s office and threatened to attack her.
Minister responded to comment on wife’s company website
The actions under scrutiny include Shandro’s decision to confront Dr. Mukarram Zaidi outside his home over a social media post, reaching out to two Red Deer doctors on their private cellphones, and contacting a member of the public who emailed his wife to criticize what she believed to be a conflict of interest.
Janice Fraser testified Wednesday she was concerned about Vital Partners Inc., a third-party health-care benefits brokerage co-founded by Andrea Shandro.
On March 20, 2020 — days after Alberta declared its COVID state of public health emergency — Fraser used a comment form on the Vital Partners website to contact the company.
“Dear Andrea,” she wrote. “You and your husband Tyler Shandro (who I used to have a tremendous amount of personal and professional respect for up until 2020) are considered to be in a conflict of interest by Albertans. We will not forget! Sincerely Janice Fraser.”
Tyler Shandro soon responded from his government email address.
“Janice,” he wrote. “Sending threatening emails to my wife is completely inappropriate and must stop. 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 said she was “petrified” by the “threat” to call protective services because she has PTSD related to previous dealings with the justice system as a victim. She previously worked in constituency offices and has held memberships in parties including the Liberals, the Greens, the Progressive Conservatives and the UCP. Prior to the 2020 email, she respected Shandro from his time on the Criminal Injuries Review Board, and for his pro-bono work related to the Calgary ring road.
At that time, however, she was frightened and decided to go to the media to protect herself.
“I’m just a nobody really, but the minister of health had time, within an hour, to respond to me, in a pandemic,” Fraser said. “It was pretty scary.”
‘I wasn’t harassing’
Alberta’s ethics commissioner previously said Shandro’s involvement in Vital Partners did not require an investigation because his shares are in a blind trust.
Andrea Shandro later responded to Fraser to explain Vital Partners’ role in the health-care system, but concluded by accusing her of spreading “misinformation” that had resulted “in hundreds of death threats to me, my employees, my children and my husband.”
Tyler Shandro later addressed his interactions with the public in a tweet, saying he was “first and foremost a father and husband” protecting his family.
Fraser said she was taken aback by the response.
“I wasn’t harassing,” she said. “I sent a comment on a public website that invited comments. I take quite deep offence to the association of my comment with death threats.”
Fraser said her interactions with Shandro undermined her confidence in both him as a lawyer and in the legal system as a whole.
“I would never hire Tyler Shandro as a lawyer again or have him represent me in any way,” she said. “He has displayed a complete incapacity to separate personal, legal professionalism, and politics.”
During cross-examination by Shandro’s lawyer Stapon, Fraser pushed back on the suggestion that the “we will not forget” was anything other than a reference to the upcoming provincial election.
“You’d agree ‘we will not forget’ is ambiguous?” Stapon asked. “It could have a number of meanings?”
“None of them threatening,” she replied.
Fraser added that in her view, Shandro’s response to her message confirmed her suspicions about the alleged conflict of interest.
The tribunal also heard testimony from Victoria Lane, Alberta Health Service’s chief privacy officer, who then-CEO Verna Yiu tasked with determining whether AHS breached privacy laws when it provided Shandro with the personal phone numbers of Red Deer physicians Dr. John Julyan-Gudgeon and Dr. Lauralee Dukeshire.
Lane said AHS should not have provided the numbers, which came after Shandro asked AHS vice-president communications Colleen Turner for help identifying two people who confronted him at a funding announcement at Red Deer Regional Hospital.
Lane said AHS should have sought the doctors’ permission to share their contact information or provided publicly available details. “That was a failing as an organization,” she said.
She also revealed Ivan Bernardo, Shandro’s personal legal counsel at the time, had contacted her asking for the numbers to review her findings. Lane refused.
During cross examination, Stapon noted that AHS, not Shandro, was responsible for any privacy breach, suggesting he was simply being an attentive elected official reaching out to individuals who raised concerns.
Shandro’s testimony is expected to continue Thursday.