EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has relieved Justice Minister Kaycee Madu of his duties after it came to light that Madu called Edmonton’s police chief about a traffic ticket.
Kenney says while all parties agree Madu never asked Chief Dale McFee to cancel the ticket last March, there’s a bigger issue at play.
“It's essential the independent administration of justice is maintained,” Kenney said in an announcement on Twitter late Monday.
“That's why I will appoint a respected independent investigator to review the relevant facts and to determine whether there was interference in the administration of justice in this case."
“In the interim period, I have asked Minister Madu to step back from his ministerial duties."
Kenney said Energy Minster Sonya Savage will handle Madu’s justice portfolio in the meantime.
The premier said he spoke with Madu earlier in the day after the traffic ticket and phone call were reported by CBC. The CBC story said Madu was given a $300 ticket for distracted driving while using a cellphone in a school zone in March of last year, and that he called McFee soon after.
Kenney said he conveyed to Madu his "profound disappointment" in his decision to call the police chief after getting the ticket.
About 90 minutes prior to Kenney’s announcement, Madu issued a statement of his own.
Madu, who is Black, said he phoned McFee after he received the ticket but only to seek assurances that he was not being racially profiled or singled out for surveillance given his political position.
“At no point did I request that the ticket be rescinded. I would never do that. However, in that particular call, I regret raising the issue at all with Chief McFee,” Madu said.
“I paid the ticket fully and promptly. I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, and for the invaluable, often thankless role they perform."
Madu recalled being pulled over by the Edmonton officer.
"The officer indicated that he had observed me driving while distracted, alleging that I was on my phone. I disagreed, stating that I was not on my phone, as it was in an inside pocket,” said Madu.
"Later, I spoke to Chief Dale McFee.
“Due to the timing of the incident, I wanted to ensure that I was not being unlawfully surveilled following the controversy surrounding the Lethbridge Police Service. I also raised concerns around profiling of racial minorities that was in the media at the time.
"Chief McFee assured me that that was most definitely not the case, and I accepted him at his word.”
Madu was referring to Lethbridge officers who were found to have conducted unauthorized surveillance on NDP legislature member Shannon Phillips in 2017, when Phillips was environment minister and there were concerns over potential government changes to restrict off-road vehicle access in environmentally sensitive areas.
McFee, through the police media relations office, declined an interview. But the service issued a short statement.
“Chief McFee did receive a phone call from Minister Madu in relation to a distracted driving ticket he was issued on March 10, 2021,” it said.
“Minister Madu had concerns about the context of the traffic stop. To be clear, he did not ask the chief to rescind the ticket. The ticket remains valid and was issued correctly.”
Earlier Monday, Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir called for Madu to be fired.
“Regular Alberta drivers do not have the ability to call their local police chief and discuss traffic tickets,” said Sabir.
“Madu used his position as minister to initiate this conversation, and regardless of whether he asked the chief to cancel the ticket, it is political interference for him to have discussed it all.”
Political scientist Duane Bratt said Kenney made the right decision.
“He had no choice,” said Bratt with Mount Royal University in Calgary. “You can’t have the justice minister calling the police chief about a ticket, about an active case, especially one involving you.
“There’s no wiggle room here.”
Madu represents the constituency of Edmonton-South West for the United Conservative government and was named justice minister in August 2020.
He is the lone UCP member in Edmonton. The rest of the city's constituencies are held by the NDP.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press