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Inside the Disciplinary Hearing for Kaycee Madu

As UCP justice minister he called a police chief after receiving a traffic ticket. An unprecedented inquiry ensued.

Charles Rusnell 24 Jun 2024The Tyee

Charles Rusnell is an independent investigative reporter based in Edmonton.

From the outset of the Law Society of Alberta disciplinary hearing for former Alberta justice minister Kaycee Madu last week, there was an obvious problem with his defence narrative: it wasn’t plausible.

Bad as that was, Madu undermined his own credibility and that of his defence through rambling testimony that was often repetitive, confusing and contradictory. In sharp contrast, other witnesses provided evidence, underpinned by notes, that was credible and entirely plausible.

This set the stage for a withering cross-examination of Madu by law society prosecutor Ken McEwan, a highly experienced Vancouver lawyer, that was like watching someone tease a small dog in a car. You felt a sympathetic urge to step in and stop it.

At one point, after a long, muddled response to a simple question, McEwan asked Madu: “Do you even remember the question?”

The former justice minister didn’t.

Interfering with the administration of justice

Madu is the third former Alberta justice minister to appear before Alberta’s law society in the past 18 months, a dubious distinction that a political scientist said is unprecedented in Canada.

Former United Conservative Party justice minister Tyler Shandro and former Conservative party justice minister Jonathan Denis have already appeared before the law society and are awaiting the rulings in their cases.

The law society cited Madu for undermining “respect for the administration of justice when he contacted the Edmonton Police Service chief of police regarding a traffic ticket he received on March 10, 2021.”

Madu was forced to step down by then premier Jason Kenney after CBC released the story about Madu’s phone call to EPS Chief Dale McFee in January 2022.

He was removed as justice minister after an internal investigation by retired Court of King’s Bench justice Adèle Kent found he had attempted to interfere with the administration of justice.

From justice minister to deputy premier

Despite that finding, Kenney appointed Madu as the province’s labour minister. After Kenney was toppled by an internal party putsch, his successor, Danielle Smith, elevated Madu to deputy premier. Madu, Edmonton’s only UCP MLA, lost the 2023 election and is now in the process of setting up a law firm.

The three-person law society panel of benchers heard testimony that a traffic officer in an unmarked police vehicle stopped Madu in a school zone near his house in south Edmonton after he was observed using his cellphone while driving his official minister’s vehicle — a half-ton truck.

Madu told the hearing he was not on his phone. He said he told the officer that, but the officer insisted he would “go with his observation.”

Madu also claimed to have told the officer only once that he was the justice minister as he was about to drive away after receiving the ticket.

The officer, Const. Ryan Brooks, testified that Madu was “mildly argumentative” in insisting he had not been on his phone.

Brooks was so certain of his observation that he told Madu he saw him using an Apple iPhone and asked him to take it out his pocket. It was, indeed, an iPhone.

Madu adamantly denied that he told Brooks four times during their initial interaction that he was Alberta’s justice minister.

“I collected the ticket, and I thanked him, and I said to him, ‘I was, by the way, the minister of justice,’ and drove off.”

But Brooks had notes and they detailed Madu’s four references to him being a minister.

He testified that after his initial argument with Madu at his truck window, Brooks went back to his vehicle, wrote the $300 ticket and then made detailed notes on the second page of the ticket that he kept.

Brooks told the hearing he had no idea who Madu was and had to call other officers to find out.

But presciently, he had made the notes in his cruiser before he returned to Madu’s vehicle and gave him the ticket.

A call to the police chief in search of ‘assurances’

Confronted with the officer’s contemporaneous notes, Madu said he didn’t know when the notes were made, inferring that Brooks may have made them after Madu’s call to his chief.

Brooks issued the traffic ticket at 9:25 a.m. Twenty minutes later, from the parking lot of a nearby grocery store, Madu called Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee on the chief’s personal cellphone.

This is where Madu’s defence narrative starts. Madu insisted he had called the chief not about the ticket but instead about the traffic stop in the context of other major issues that were in play at the time.

Two days before, on March 8, 2021, CBC had broken the bombshell story about how Lethbridge Police Service officers had conducted illegal surveillance on, and breached the privacy of, NDP MLA Shannon Phillips.

The story caused a firestorm of controversy and Madu said he was under pressure to deal with the issue.

Madu, as Alberta’s first Black justice minister, had also heard from many non-white constituents from all over the province about carding and racial profiling and was actively working on policy to address it at that time.

Madu told the hearing that at the beginning of the phone call, he reminded McFee about the conversations they had had about carding and profiling and how McFee had told him these weren’t real concerns.

“I said, ‘Guess what? I have just experienced that.’ I said, ‘I have just been traffic stopped by one of your men and accused by them of being on my phone when I was not on my phone.’”

Madu said he called McFee because he wanted “assurances” that he had not been racially profiled and that he had not been subjected, as Phillips had been, to “illegal political surveillance.”

McFee assured him that it was unlikely he had been profiled for a traffic ticket, Madu said.

Inside Madu’s personal call with the police chief

In what is also probably unprecedented in Alberta’s political and legal history, the law society called McFee, a serving police chief, as a witness.

McFee testified that Madu, despite his testimony, raised two issues on the call: the traffic ticket and racial profiling.

The chief was on holiday, staying at a Canmore hotel, when Madu called. But like Const. Brooks, McFee had also made notes, albeit on a hotel envelope, and he specifically recorded that Madu expressed concern about the traffic ticket.

McFee said the call was brief and cordial and he told Madu he had two options: either pay the ticket or go to court. And that ended the conversation.

Madu had testified that he had gone back to his office and told his staff he intended to challenge the ticket but subsequently had been convinced that would be a bad idea and he paid the ticket two days later.

In Madu’s cross-examination, McEwan meticulously, and tenaciously, took apart his defence and raised serious questions about his credibility as a witness.

Madu, for reasons never explained, insisted that he had McFee’s personal cellphone number and vigorously denied that he had asked his press secretary to get McFee’s number for him.

Except McEwan had transcripts from Madu’s interview with retired justice Kent, produced for her report into Madu’s actions.

They showed Madu’s press secretary had texted a senior civilian employee in McFee’s office to ask for his number after the ticket was issued but before Madu called McFee — so within a span of 20 minutes.

Madu attempted to explain this away by saying he had many calls with McFee about various policy issues. His press secretary may have contacted McFee’s senior staffer in relation to a news conference he was giving that day about the Lethbridge police spying scandal.

McFee however, testified that when Madu mentioned the Lethbridge matter, he knew nothing about it because he was on holiday.

A call that sidestepped ordinary legal processes

Worse yet for Madu’s credibility, McFee had also testified that he had been warned by his staff that Madu would be calling, which, of course, squares with the narrative that he didn’t have McFee’s number and asked his press secretary to get it for him.

“You have no understanding or explanation of how it is the chief was already aware that you were looking to speak to him?” McEwan asked Madu.

Madu didn’t but insisted his phone records would prove that he didn’t get his press secretary to fetch McFee’s number for him.

“They speak for themselves,” Madu said.

In his summation, McEwan pointed out that Madu had testified he had told Brooks he knew he was just doing his job. And he noted that Madu neither complained to McFee about racial profiling nor filed a formal complaint against Brooks.

And yet, McEwan said, Madu claimed he called McFee only to discuss carding and racial profiling but not the ticket.

Even though there was “no objective basis” to connect the traffic ticket to the other policy issues, “you bundled them together and lobbed them at the chief of police,” McEwan said.

McEwan noted that Justice Kent had found Madu’s call “carried the expectation” that McFee would respond to his concerns about the ticket.

Madu had used his position of power and authority to sidestep the ordinary legal process related to a traffic ticket. And that “interferes with the administration of justice,” he said.

Madu’s conduct was “inconsistent with the basic commitment to the concept of equal justice” and was “both incompatible with the public interest and the best interest of the legal profession.”

‘A remarkable prosecution’

Madu’s lawyer, Perry Mack of Calgary, one of Alberta’s top civil lawyers, reminded the panel that the Law Society of Alberta had acknowledged in a public statement that there was systemic racism within the law profession in Alberta and within the law society.

Although Mack acknowledged there was no evidence of racial profiling in this case, he urged the panel to view the evidence through the “lens of Madu’s experience” as a Black man, Black lawyer and Black justice minister.

As the minister of justice, Madu was “absolutely entitled to pick up the phone to call the chief to ask him about carding or profiling at any time.”

Mack addressed the credibility issues in Madu’s testimony by telling the panel that the law society was “forensically distilling” a 15-minute event that happened over three years ago. He downplayed the contradictions as a “slight variance of facts.”

There is a “high bar” for a law society finding of unprofessional conduct, Mack said, and he said he found it “astonishing” that this matter was even before the law society.

“It is a remarkable prosecution,” Mack said. “And with great respect, it should never have gotten this far.”

In a rebuttal, McEwan said, “What is remarkable is that the attorney general, upon receiving a traffic ticket, would call the police chief.”

In reserving their decision, the panel gave no indication of when their ruling might be released.

If you have any information for this story, or information for another story, please contact Charles Rusnell in confidence via email.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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