'The equivalent of jaywalking': Tyler Shandro's lawyer says law society complaints should be dismissed

Former UCP health minister Tyler Shandro is before the Law Society of Alberta for a conduct hearing after complaints were made about his behaviour in 2020. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Former UCP health minister Tyler Shandro is before the Law Society of Alberta for a conduct hearing after complaints were made about his behaviour in 2020. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Tyler Shandro engaged in "impulsive and highly inappropriate behaviour" and deserves to be sanctioned, argued counsel for the Law Society of Alberta as part of final submissions in the former health minister's conduct hearing.

But Shandro's lawyer Grant Stapon said his client's behaviour is at worst, "the equivalent of jaywalking" and argued Shandro is the victim of complaints that are politically motivated.

Shandro, a Calgary lawyer who served in cabinet for the United Conservative Party, is before the Law Society of Alberta (LSA) over complaints he behaved unprofessionally in interactions with three doctors and a member of the public.

All of the interactions took place in the early days of the pandemic, when Shandro was Alberta's health minister under then-premier Jason Kenney.

The LSA's conduct hearing took place over several days spanning the last eight months. Final arguments were made Tuesday.

If the panel decides Shandro is deserving of sanction, penalties range from a letter of reprimand to disbarment.

Shandro, who lost his Calgary-Acadia seat by a margin of 25 votes in May's election, faces three citations.

Conflict of interest allegations

He is accused of bringing the reputation of the profession into disrepute by showing up at a doctor's home on March 21, 2020, to confront him about a social media post which implied the minister was embroiled in a conflict of interest over his wife's operation of a private health insurance company.

At the time, Shando was at odds with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) over an agreement with the province's doctors, who wanted him to reinstate a long-standing compensation agreement with physicians or leave his post as health minister.

Earlier in the hearing, Shandro testified that in March 2020, he and his wife were being bombarded with hate mail and threats connected to the AMA dispute as well as allegations he was in a conflict of interest with his wife Andrea Shandro's company, Vital Partners.

The company brokers supplementary health insurance, including for some of the coverage that had been delisted through legislative changes advanced by Shandro. Ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler had said Shandro was not in a conflict of interest because he'd transferred his shares in the company to a blind trust.

'A private conversation'

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi shared a photo of Shandro with a thought-bubble caption reading, "So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We're going to be RICH."

In his closing arguments, Stapon said the interaction between Shandro and Zaidi was "a fully private conversation between parties who know each other."

"He goes to have a discussion with a man that he knows … to raise concerns that there's threats to his family that are occurring," said Stapon.

Shandro's second citation involves contacting two doctors by using his ministerial position to obtain their personal cell phone numbers.

Shandro intended to intimidate: LSA counsel

In that case, two doctors who'd tried to attend a funding announcement on Feb. 26, 2020, at the Red Deer Hospital testified they were hoping to speak to the politicians about the government's moves to change physician fees.

Dr. Lauralee Dukeshire testified she called Shandro a "liar and a cheat" as he got on an elevator that day.

Dr. John Julyan-Gudgeon said he was trying to read a statement as he followed Shandro and other politicians into the elevator but was pushed out.

The two were later contacted by Shandro on their personal cell phones.

"The minister of health calling you off hours on your private cell conveyed the message 'I know where to find you, I know how to get to you,'" said LSA counsel Ken McEwan. "It was not only intimidating, but respectfully, it was intended to do so."

'Absolutely nothing inappropriate'

But Stapon said there was "absolutely nothing inappropriate" about Shandro placing the phone calls.

"Sure he did, they were demanding to speak with him."

An Alberta Health Services privacy official previously testified she found AHS breached privacy legislation by providing the private numbers to the minister.

Shandro's final citation involves the use of his government email account to respond to a correspondence from a woman who had attempted to communicate with his wife.

On March 20, 2020, Andrea Shandro received a message through Vital Partner's website from Janice Fraser, who said she'd lost respect for Tyler Shandro and said Albertans would consider his involvement in the company a conflict of interest despite the ethics commissioner's findings.

Within an hour, Fraser received a response from Shandro stating that he considered the message threatening and would refer Fraser to the authorities if she contacted Andrea again.

Using government email 'probably a misjudgment'

Shandro said he and his family were enduring an onslaught of threats at the time.

Using his ministerial email instead of his personal account "was probably a misjudgment," said Stapon, but he argued it doesn't have anything to do with the practice of law.

McEwan argued Shandro's behaviour in all three circumstances demonstrated a pattern of "attempting to quell legitimate public debate or criticism by improper communications," with the intent of intimidating those he'd engaged with.

"The similarities between the events is striking," said McEwan.

"Each involved the respondent engaging in impulsive behaviour, each involves the respondent using inappropriate means and methods of communication, each involves the respondent being unable to accept political criticism."

But Stapon argued Shandro's behaviour was "exactly the opposite" of an attempt to shut down public engagement.

The lawyer also asked the panel to "consider the difference between prosecution and persecution."

The panel reserved its decision. The LSA says it aims to post a written decision to its website within 90 days of the conduct hearing's conclusion.