National Newswatch

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he didn’t know until this week that his justice minister had called Edmonton’s police chief 10 months earlier about a traffic ticket.

"I do recall at some point last year hearing that minister (Kaycee) Madu had gotten a ticket (and) had paid for it," Kenney told a news conference Thursday.

"I got fully briefed on all of this, including about the call and the details, on Monday afternoon following media inquiries.

"Shortly thereafter, I called minister Madu to ask what happened from his perspective and why he made this call. I expressed my serious disappointment that he would have done this."

These were Kenney's first public comments on the matter since tweeting out late Monday that Madu was being relieved of his justice responsibilities pending an investigation.

Kenney said he plans to hire a third party to determine if there was interference in the administration of justice. 

He said the government is drafting terms of reference for the review and has contacted former judges to oversee it. 

Critics, including the Opposition NDP, have said the investigation is unnecessary given that all the principals involved, including Madu, agree he made the call to Chief Dale McFee last March.

They said that even though Madu did not try to have McFee cancel the ticket, making such a call violates parliamentary tradition that cabinet ministers don't intervene directly in the judicial system in matters in which they have a personal stake.

NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said Kenney has no choice but to fire Madu from his justice post.

Madu has not spoken publicly on the issue, but put out a series of statements this week on social media.

In them, he stressed he did not call the chief to cancel the ticket — a point McFee corroborates — but said he wanted, and received, assurances from McFee that he wasn't being targeted for the ticket because he is Black or because he was in a high-profile government job.

Kenney, asked by reporters why he hasn't fired Madu, said the issue is not clear cut. He noted that Madu did not ask for his ticket to be rescinded but did raise concerns about issues such as racial profiling.

"I was not on this call," said Kenney.

"I think given the issues that have been raised, it is appropriate to allow for a little bit of time for an investigation from somebody with legal training who is impartial to provide me with advice on whether this constituted an effort to interfere with the independent administration of justice."

Madu, the United Conservatives' only legislature member in Edmonton, had been justice minister since August 2020. He is serving his first term in the legislature.

On the morning of March 10, he was ticketed for distracted driving for being on a cellphone while behind the wheel in a school zone. He paid the $300 ticket soon after but not before reaching out to McFee. 

This issue did not become public until media reports Monday.

Madu, in his statements, has also disagreed with the ticket. He said his phone was in his pocket at the time.

That prompted an angry response Wednesday from Staff Sgt. Mike Elliott, head of the Edmonton Police Association, which represents rank and file officers.

Elliott, on Twitter, questioned Madu's fitness for the justice job.

"I personally know the member who issued the ticket, and to make an erroneous assumption he was surveilling you is shameful and preposterous," wrote Elliott.

He said that even if Madu believed he was being unfairly treated, there is a complaint process that should be followed that doesn't include a direct line to the chief of police.

"The audacity and arrogance is very clear and you are not deserving to be the minister of justice, who is supposed to represent all citizens in a fair and impartial manner."

Madu's case is the latest in a string of changes to Kenney's cabinet in just over a year.

In November, Devin Dreeshen quit as agriculture minister amid concerns over his conduct and drinking. 

In September, Tyler Shandro left the health portfolio. Kenney said Shandro asked for the change, citing the gruelling fight against COVID-19 as a factor.

Leela Aheer, the minister for culture, multiculturalism and the status of women, was turfed in July from cabinet after she publicly criticized Kenney for breaking COVID-19 health rules by having a patio dinner outside his temporary penthouse office.

Aheer's portfolio was carved up and distributed to others. Kenney denied the decision was political payback.

And just over a year ago, in January 2021, Tracy Allard resigned as municipal affairs minister after public outrage over a Christmas holiday trip she took to Hawaii. The trip happened at the same time the government was urging Albertans to stay home and isolate to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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