February 26, 2024

Saluti Law Medi

Rule it with System

Rules on cabinet legal advice released after Alberta premier’s ethics breach

The guidelines come at the request of Premier Danielle Smith who was found to have breached ethics guidelines through a conversation she had with the then-attorney general regarding an ongoing criminal case

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Alberta’s justice minister has published guidelines on how government ministers, including the premier, are permitted to seek legal advice from the attorney general.

The rules comes at the request of Premier Danielle Smith after she was found to have violated conflict of interest rules by Alberta ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler as outlined in a report released last May.

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Smith apologized for the violation during the one-day meeting of the legislative assembly in June.

“I’ve asked my minister of justice to develop guidelines for an appropriate way to receive his legal advice on various legal matters, and I look forward to receiving that advice,” she said.

Those guidelines were published Tuesday by Justice Minister and Attorney General Mickey Amery and outline the boundaries within which cabinet members may seek advice from the attorney general.

“The premier and ministers may always seek legal advice from the attorney general on prosecution and provincial offence-related matters that are unrelated to any specific current prosecution or to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in relation to potential future prosecutions,” the guidelines read.

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Trussler found Smith broke ethics rules through a conversation she had with then-justice minister and attorney general Tyler Shandro related to criminal charges against Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski, who was awaiting trial at the time.

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“The premier and ministers should not seek to influence the way in which prosecutorial discretion is exercised relative to any existing or potential future prosecution,” the guidelines state.

Crown prosecutors typically asses a case for its likelihood of conviction coupled with the degree of public interest.

Amery’s guidelines allow for the attorney general to provide Crown prosecutors with guidance on how to evaluate the public interest in certain types of cases.

“The attorney general may consult with the premier and ministers on the factors that Crown prosecutors may or should consider in exercising their discretion in the relevant category of cases.”

If the premier or ministers are unsure if contacting the attorney general for advice would be inappropriate, those concerns should be expressed ahead of time in writing, the guidelines state.

“If the matter has been raised in a verbal discussion, the attorney general will immediately terminate that discussion.”

The attorney general is free to consult with the premier or ministers, according to the guidelines, but also retains the right to make the final decision.

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The rules apply to ministers but also to their staff and civil servants.

Ministers, including the premier, retain their right to inquire on matters of civil law.

Trussler’s May report did not recommend sanctions against Smith but retained the right to do so once the legislature began its new session, which got underway on Monday.

On Tuesday, Opposition justice critic Irfan Sabir said it is important Smith not get away with a simple apology.

“Going forward, when any public office holder, in particular in the premier’s office, breaks the law, that they know that there will be consequences,” he said.

“Albertans also need to know that the premier is not above the law.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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