Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he knew about his justice minister's distracted driving ticket last year and says the upcoming investigation will guide his decision on Kaycee Madu's fate.
Madu called Edmonton's police chief to discuss a personal traffic ticket soon after he was fined $300 for distracted driving in a school zone last March.
Madu was stripped of ministerial duties and an independent investigation was announced after CBC News reported on the phone call.
The inquiry will look into whether the call constituted interference with the administration of justice.
"I think given the issues that have been raised, it is appropriate to allow for a little bit of time for an investigation from somebody with legal training who is impartial to provide me with advice on whether this constituted an effort to interfere with the independent administration of justice," Kenney said Thursday.
The premier said he was made aware of the ticket, and was fully briefed on the incident Monday. He did not clarify when he first learned of the phone call.
"I do recall at some point last year hearing that minister Madu had gotten a ticket, had paid for it. I got fully briefed on all of this, including about the call and the details, on Monday afternoon, following media inquiries."
Madu and Chief Dale McFee both confirmed that the ticket was discussed on the call and, in that context, that the minister had also raised concerns about racial profiling and issues related to surveillance by the Lethbridge Police Service of a former cabinet minister.
The two men say no request was made to have the fine dropped. Madu has denied being on his cellphone while driving, contrary to the details included on the traffic ticket. He also has said he regrets raising the ticket with the chief.
Madu is currently on a leave of absence, with Energy Minister Sonya Savage acting as justice minister and solicitor general during his absence.
Third-party investigation appropriate, says Kenney
The premier says he spoke with Madu on Monday to hear his version of events and asked his chief of staff to call the police chief for the same purpose.
Kenney says he then reached out to almost a dozen former members of the legal system and government for advice on what to do next, and determined a leave of absence for Madu coupled with an investigation was appropriate.
"The consensus … was that having a third-party investigation to identify exactly what happened would be the right approach," Kenney said.
The terms of reference for the inquiry have been drafted, but little other information has been made available. The premier's office has not returned any requests for further information on the matter over the course of this week.
McFee told reporters Thursday he didn't believe it was appropriate to tell the premier directly about the call and added Madu never asked for disciplinary action for the ticketing officer.
McFee says the inquiry will determine whether Madu should remain as justice minister.
"There's two things that will obviously be considered: Did he break the law and did he do something that maybe he shouldn't have [done], and I think we need somebody independent to do that," the chief said.
"It's not unlike a chief of police to talk with the justice minister on different things. The conversation was short, and I think at the end of the day it was very clear."
The premier said the minister would have been fired immediately if the chief had raised concerns that Madu's call interfered with the justice system or if he'd asked to have the ticket quashed. Madu paid the fine the same week it was issued.
Edmonton's police association and the Official Opposition, the NDP, have been among those calling for Madu's immediate resignation.