CALGARY — The lawyer for a former Alberta cabinet minister who is alleged to have broken the legal profession's code of conduct says complaints against his client were politically motivated, while counsel for the Law Society of Alberta says he was trying to quell legitimate public debate.
The allegations against Tyler Shandro, dating back to his time as provincial health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic, involve an interaction with a longtime friend and party colleague about a social media post and two family doctors in central Alberta the former minister contacted about their concerns.
"These are all efforts to make an attack on Shandro's political activities and that should be a factor this panel considers in dismissing each of these complaints as not having the appropriate nexus as to the practice of law," said Grant Stapon, in his final argument to the Law Society of Alberta panel.
"I want you to consider the difference between prosecution and persecution in a case like this."
The lengthy hearings into the three complaints began in January. Shandro, who was later moved to the justice portfolio, was defeated in the May provincial election.
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, who had posted a photo on social media of Shandro with a caption related to privatizing health care, earlier told the hearing the minister and his wife visited his home in March 2020. He said it occurred during fractious negotiations between the government and the Alberta Medical Association over fees.
The photo of Shandro, with a thought bubble caption, said: "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." Shandro's wife, Andrea, is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.
Zaidi said he agreed to take the post down.
In the other cases, two physicians from Red Deer confronted Shandro at an event and one demanded to know why he didn't speak to doctors who work in the hospital.
Shandro found their phone numbers and called both doctors. They talked to him, but said they were upset he had obtained their phone numbers and felt intimidated.
Stapon said Shandro was acting as a private citizen in his dealings with Zaidi. In his conversations with the other physicians, he was not acting as a lawyer, Stapon said.
Stapon said this wasn't a case involving misappropriation of funds, breach of trust or fraud.
"None of it involved the practice of law … I'm going to submit he's even innocent of this — it's the equivalent of jaywalking."
But Law Society counsel Ken McEwan wants sanctions against Shandro. He said in a credibility assessment, it's the evidence of the witnesses that should be preferred.
"There is a pattern of the respondent … attempting to quell legitimate public debate or criticism by improper communications, having the effect and design to intimidate a series of individuals," McEwan said.
"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."
A decision on potential sanctions is to be made at a later date.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press