Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's office has issued a statement saying she used "imprecise" language after two instances when she said she had contacted Crown prosecutors.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in Edmonton, Smith said she had asked Crown prosecutors about charges related to COVID-19 health violations.
"We do have an independent justice department and independent Crown prosecutors, and I have asked them to consider all charges under the lens of 'is it in the public interest to pursue?'"
"I ask them on a regular basis, as new cases come out, is it in the public interest to pursue and is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction?"
Smith made similar remarks last month. In an interview with Rebel News about COVID-related charges, Smith said she continues to ask questions about whether the prosecutions related to public health orders are in the public interest.
"I put it to the prosecutors, and I've asked them to do a review of the cases with those two things in mind," she said in an interview posted on the Rebel News website Dec. 23.
In a new statement issued Friday, Smith said she had discussions with Attorney General Tyler Shandro and the deputy attorney general, and not Crown prosecutors, as she previously said.
"At no time have I communicated with Crown prosecutors."
"While my language may have been imprecise in these instances, I was referring to the process and discussions above and the advice I received from the attorney general and the deputy attorney general."
Smith said she asked Shandro and his deputy to look into what options were available with respect to outstanding COVID-related cases.
"They advised me the Crown prosecutors would independently make their decisions on whether or not to carry on with COVID-related cases based on their assessment of whether there was a reasonable chance of conviction and whether it was in the public interest," she wrote in the emailed statement.
"I respect that independent process."
'Really, really big problem,' says Nenshi
Speaking on the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday, former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said Smith's comments are "very serious."
He said if Smith was talking to prosecutors, that would be judicial interference.
"If, in fact, as the premier's office statement said, she never talked to anybody or never talked to any prosecutors about it … she's showing a pattern of, if you're being polite, exaggerating; if you're being less polite, lying about conversations she's had."
LISTEN | Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi says Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's comments are very serious:
Nenshi pointed to the Arctic Winter Games vaccination mandate as an example. In November, Smith said she asked the Games to drop the vaccine requirement in response to the committee's request for funding, but the president of the organization said that was untrue, disputing the idea that the Games' vaccination policy was reversed in exchange for funding.
Nenshi added that if Smith is discussing the prosecutions with Shandro, while legal, it bears resemblance to the SNC-Lavalin controversy that landed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in hot water in 2019.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and to get her to overrule a decision to not grant a deferred prosecution agreement to engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
"Citizens really can ask themselves the question, even if it's legal, is it appropriate for the premier to be putting pressure on the officers of the court, and in this case, particularly the deputy attorney general, who's the senior public servant in charge of the court system, with her opinion on how they ought to enforce the law?" Nenshi asked.
On Thursday, the Alberta NDP called for an independent investigation into Smith's interactions with Crown prosecutors.