EDMONTON — The Calgary street pastor at the centre of an investigation that concluded Premier Danielle Smith interfered in Alberta’s justice system says she is lying about the nature of their pivotal phone conversation.
Smith has said publicly her conversation with Artur Pawlowski was supposed to be about politics and not his criminal trial relating to a COVID-19 protest at Coutts, Alta., which blocked the United States border-crossing for more than two weeks.
However, Pawlowski told reporters Wednesday the discussion was never supposed to be about anything but his trial and about whether Smith would follow through on her public promise to pardon those charged with offences related to violating health restrictions.
Audio of the 11-minute call, which prompted an investigation by Alberta’s ethics commissioner, focuses on charges Pawlowski was facing and his subsequent trial. There was no discussion of him in his role as then-leader of the fringe Independence Party of Alberta.
Smith is heard on the call offering to make inquiries on Pawlowski’s case and report back.
“(The call) was always about the charges, from the very beginning. I had nothing really else to say,” Pawlowski told reporters in a news conference Wednesday on the east steps of the legislature.
“This phone call was always about the same thing: when are you going to introduce what you promised, the amnesty bill for people like me and thousands of other Albertans."
Pawlowski said he doesn’t know who leaked the audio of the Jan. 6 call with Smith, adding that it was the only one he had with her in her role as premier.
Smith has given different explanations for the phone call when a leaked copy of it was made public by the Opposition NDP in late March.
Smith initially said she discussed the case with Pawlowski in her role as a politician listening to a constituent. But as criticism mounted that she was interfering in the justice system, she changed the story on April 8 to suggest she was sandbagged by Pawlowski on what was supposed to be a call between political leaders.
Pawlowski said Wednesday Smith was not telling the truth and was getting tripped up in a mesh of false statements.
“Why did she flip-flop four times in the same breath with the same story? Because when you lie, you can’t keep your facts straight,” he said.
Pawlowski is running in the election, set for Monday, as leader of the new right-wing fringe party Solidarity Movement of Alberta.
With party candidates behind him waving placards, Pawlowski called the news conference to reveal other previously hidden details of his relationship with Smith.
He announced unnamed members of Smith’s team offered him multiple inducements to join the UCP cause: a secure legislature seat, cash, amnesty and the opportunity to head up a government investigation of the pandemic.
Pawlowski said he turned down all the offers. He refused to provide any corroborating evidence or witnesses to support his allegations. No independent evidence to support such allegations has surfaced.
The allegations were part of a wide-ranging speech by Pawlowski in which he criticized Smith, the UCP, the Alberta NDP and its leader, Rachel Notley, as well as the mainstream media, the LGBTQ community and drag shows.
About 30 protesters and onlookers watched his news conference, fanning themselves in the early afternoon sunshine while shouting at each other or at Pawlowski. One person pounced on the pauses in Pawlowski’s speech to holler “Lunatic!”
Smith, speaking earlier in Calgary before Pawlowski’s news conference, declined to comment on her interactions with him.
“The person in question has been found guilty and I have nothing further to say on that,” Smith said.
Smith’s campaign responded to Pawlowski’s allegations in a one-line statement: “The premier is not aware of any of the conversations or alleged offers referenced by Mr. Pawlowski in his comments today and strongly questions the credibility of his claims.”
Notley said Smith’s decision to interact with Pawlowski should remind voters what four more years of a UCP government would look like.
“I am deeply concerned about all we have seen today,” Notley said.
“Extremism being shouted from the steps of the legislature. Hate and transphobia and a furthering of a division that only serves to harm Alberta.
“This is the fringe of the fringe, and these are the folks Danielle Smith has been giving her time to. This is who she interfered in the justice system for. She broke the law in order to get Artur Pawlowski’s charges dropped.”
Last week, Alberta ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler concluded in a report that Smith broke Alberta’s ethics rules when, after Smith called Pawlowski, she phoned Justice Minister Tyler Shandro within hours and tried — but failed — to convince Shandro to try to make the Pawlowski case “go away.”
Pawlowski was found guilty earlier this month of mischief for inciting the continuation of the Coutts blockade.
Trussler said Smith’s actions strike at the heart of the fundamental democratic convention prohibiting politicians from interfering in the justice system and violate the principle that no one is above the law.
Smith has said she made a mistake, is not a lawyer and would appreciate direction from Trussler on how to interact with the justice system.
Pawlowski is a controversial figure in Alberta for his high-profile, disruptive demonstrations against the LGBTQ community and COVID-19 health rules.
The Independence Party of Alberta announced it was parting ways with Pawlowski as leader in late March, saying their values no longer aligned.
On the Jan. 6 call, Smith is heard telling Pawlowski, "I've been watching your public advocacy for many years so it's nice to connect with you.''
She has since struck a different tone, saying in early April, "Obviously, Mr. Pawlowski holds some very extreme views that I disagree with completely."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2023.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press