CBC News is retracting a report alleging someone in Premier Danielle Smith’s office emailed Crown prosecutors to question and challenge the handling of cases involving COVID-19 protests in Alberta that blocked traffic at a U.S. border crossing for more than two weeks.
CBC made the announcement Wednesday in an unsigned editor’s note atop an amended online version of the original Jan. 19 story.
“Our sources have insisted that Crown prosecutors felt political pressure regarding the Coutts, (Alta.), cases, but they are not able to confirm that the emails they originally described were sent directly from the premier’s office to the Crown,” said the editor’s note.
“As such, we have updated this story and related pieces, removing references to direct contact between the premier’s office and prosecutors — which the premier has vehemently denied.
“CBC News regrets reporting direct contact by email.”
The story, along with public comments made by Smith around that time, sparked months of controversy, accusations, investigations and threats of lawsuits that culminated in an investigation and subsequent May 18 report by ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler.
In that report, Trussler found no evidence of such emails but, based on other information, concluded Smith broke ethics rules and sought to undermine the rule of law by trying to persuade her then-justice minister to make a COVID-19-related criminal prosecution “go away.”
Smith had challenged the veracity of the CBC email claims from the start, noting officials could find no evidence of such correspondence and that CBC News itself had stated it had not seen the emails in question.
CBC stood by its reporting for months, but in Wednesday’s note stated Trussler’s finding of no evidence to support the existence of the emails prompted it to review the matter anew and reach a new conclusion.
“The editor’s note was published after reviewing all of our journalism and talking again to sources,” said CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson in an email statement.
Smith’s office had threatened to sue the CBC for defamation for months over the story but never formally launched a claim.
Smith took to Twitter later Wednesday to indicate there will be no court action.
“I’ve been vindicated, as has my office,” wrote Smith.
“Now that CBC has expressed regret for its inaccurate reporting and Albertans know the truth, I consider the matter with the CBC closed.
“Journalism is an integral part of our society and all I’ve ever asked for is fair, accurate and balanced coverage.”
Last month, Smith stood in the chamber of the legislature and formally apologized to Albertans for her Jan. 6 phone call to then-justice minister Tyler Shandro in which she sought to have him abandon the criminal prosecution of COVID protester Artur Pawlowski.
Shandro refused to intervene and Pawlowski was eventually found guilty of mischief.
Shandro was defeated in the May 29 election and Smith has since asked new Justice Minister Mickey Amery to give her guidelines on how she is to interact with him on legal matters.
Smith has said she will also act on Trussler’s recommendation to have new members to the legislature receive briefings on how the separation of powers works in Canada’s democracy.
The Opposition NDP asked RCMP in a letter last month to investigate whether Smith’s actions violated Criminal Code provisions surrounding breach of trust and obstructing justice.
Smith, in her tweet, called on the NDP to make amends for amplifying the original CBC email story.
“I’m asking the Alberta NDP to acknowledge their error also, and retract and apologize for spreading this misinformation,” wrote Smith.