EDMONTON — The Coutts, Alta., border blockade was a “win” last year because it got “rid of mandates,” said UCP Leader Danielle Smith on Wednesday, after refusing to comment on a pastor who was convicted of mischief for his role there.
The United Conservative leader appeared on 630 CHED with radio host Shaye Ganam and was asked on the third day of Alberta’s election campaign about a video that resurfaced this week in which she called the Coutts border blockade a potential win.
“We want to see it win at Coutts so that (former Alberta premier) Jason Kenney, (Saskatchewan Premier) Scott Moe, together, become the first premiers to turn it around at the provincial level,” Smith said on a Western Standard livestream from early 2022.
On Wednesday, Ganam asked Smith what win she was talking about.
“I think the win for Albertans was getting rid of mandates,” replied Smith during the morning radio show. “I don’t think it’s any secret that I was opposed to (vaccine) mandates.”
While it may have been a win in Smith’s eyes, one of the people who played a key role at the Coutts protest — Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski — lost in court on Tuesday after asking Smith for help in his criminal proceedings.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight in March after a phone call she had as premier with Pawlowski just weeks before his criminal trial started was widely publicized. Alberta’s ethics commissioner launched an ongoing investigation into whether Smith interfered with the administration of justice.
Ganam had also asked Smith for her response to Pawlowski being found guilty of mischief after he delivered a speech at the blockade that the judge found had incited protesters. Smith was not made available to media on Tuesday after the verdict came down — which she said during the radio broadcast was because she had no new policies to announce.
Smith refused to talk about the pastor being convicted of mischief for his role at the Coutts border blockade that snarled traffic for days as protesters decried public health measures, stating that proceedings were still “ongoing.”
The judge convicted Pawlowski on two charges: mischief and breaching a release order. The judge put off ruling on a charge under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act of wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure. Penalties on the other charges could range up to jail time.
On Wednesday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley started laughing when asked by a reporter during a campaign stop about Smith’s refusal to comment on Pawlowski’s verdict.
“I’m sorry, she has a policy of not speaking publicly on matters before the courts except when she’s talking to the person who is before the courts about how she’s going to interfere with matters before the courts?” responded Notley.
“She cannot be relied upon,” she continued. “She’s reckless and she’s unpredictable.”
Pawlowski wasn’t the only person to be hit with criminal charges stemming from the border blockade — the RCMP charged 13 people with crimes ranging from weapons possession and mischief to conspiracy to murder police officers in mid-February after the blockade went on for weeks.
But Pawlowski appears to be the only one who had an 11-minute phone call with Smith, when she was sitting as premier of Alberta, in which he urged her to intervene in his case. The leaked phone call was publicized by the Alberta NDP in March and shows Smith telling Pawlowski she’ll make inquiries about his proceedings.
The Mounties at the time of the blockade drew a clear line between protesters in Coutts and the people charged with violent crimes. The blockade ended on Feb. 15 due to the charges with one organizer saying the decision to leave had been made after “the infiltration of extreme elements.”
Some of the people charged by the RCMP still face those charges while others have seen some dropped. Four men accused of conspiracy to commit murder are expected to face a trial in June.
As premier, Kenney ended the province’s vaccine passport system in the middle of the blockade crisis.
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