Ethics official cites Alberta premier for violation, ahead of election

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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Alberta Premier Danielle Smith interfered with the judicial process, the Canadian province's ethics commissioner said in a ruling released on Thursday, two weeks before a provincial election that is expected to be hard fought.

At a time when raging wildfires in Alberta are testing Smith's disaster management skills, the announcement is yet another challenge for the right-leaning ruling United Conservative Party (UCP), which has run into trouble over statements by Smith and other candidates.

Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler said Smith had breached conflict of interest laws by contacting the province's justice minister about the case of a Calgary pastor facing criminal charges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is a threat to democracy to interfere with the administration of justice," she wrote.

In statement on Thursday, Smith said she would seek legal advice on how a premier could talk to a justice minister about sensitive matters in the future.

Alberta, Canada's main oil-producing province, holds provincial elections on May 29 and polls indicate a tight two-way race between the UCP and the left-leaning New Democratic Party.

Last week Smith apologized for having compared Albertans vaccinated against COVID-19 with followers of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. She made the comments in 2021 when working as a radio show host.

A UCP candidate apologized on Wednesday after comparing transgender children in schools to putting feces in food, but said she would not withdraw from the election, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp said.

Smith said in a statement on Thursday that Johnson will not sit as a UCP member in the legislature if she wins the election as a party candidate.

In March, another UCP candidate resigned after claiming children are exposed to pornography in schools and teachers help them change their gender identities.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa and Doina Chiacu in Washington, editing by David Ljunggren and David Gregorio)