EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has rejected calls to fire his health minister for threatening to sic legislature security on a private citizen and berating a physician in front of his family.
Kenney says Tyler Shandro and Shandro’s wife, Andrea, have been facing recent online abuse, including death threats against her, tied to unfounded allegations of conflict of interest.
“I think any Albertan would understand that a husband or wife will get passionate when their spouse is being attacked and even threatened, and certainly defamed,” Kenney said Friday.
“I’ve told Tyler he should probably just stay away from social media, don’t be distracted by the trolls. Just stay focused on his job.
“As far as I’m concerned that’s the end of the matter.”
Kenney was responding to a CBC report that Shandro has been directly going after critics who accuse him and his wife of questionable dealings given his wife runs a supplementary health-benefits company.
The ethics commissioner has ruled Shandro is not violating conflict of interest rules.
Last Saturday night, Shandro confronted Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, a Calgary neighbour and acquaintance, after Zaidi shared online a derogatory meme tied to the accusations.
Zaidi said the confrontation happened in front of his house with his family watching from inside.
“He (Shandro) was emotional, angry, crying, saying they are getting death threats and would have to move,” Zaidi said in an interview.
He said Shandro’s wife interrupted at one point to say, “He (Zaidi) doesn’t care about us. He just cares about the money.”
Zaidi said at Shandro’s insistence he went inside and deleted the meme. He said his two teen sons were at the front window watching the encounter and later teased him, saying, ”Why do you make people cry, Dad?”
But Zaidi said his wife was very upset.
He said she told him, “You are putting the family at risk and danger. If a (cabinet) minister can come to the house, what’s next?”
According to the CBC report, Shandro also personally responded to email complaints to his wife, and in one instance messaged a critic: “Email (Andrea) again and it will be referred to protective services.”
Protective services refer to security teams that protect the premier and, as necessary, other cabinet ministers and politicians.
Shandro was not made available for an interview but in a statement said the threats and abuse had been escalating.
“At one point last Friday, my wife was even concerned that someone would show up to her office, jeopardizing her personal safety and that of her staff,” said Shandro.
“The attacks on someone I love and the mother of my children upset me deeply. As any husband would do, I responded passionately to defend my wife.”
He said he had gone to see Zaidi to “implore him to cease propagating this false information.
“I fully recognize the enormity of what our province and country is going through right now, and regret that this episode has become a distraction. For that, I am sincerely sorry,” said Shandro.
“I am determined to continue tirelessly performing my role during this pandemic, and pledge to not get distracted by social media attacks during this extremely serious time.”
Earlier Friday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley called for Shandro to be replaced, saying he’s exhibiting a pattern of reckless, unfocused behaviour that cannot be tolerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not what we expect from a minister in charge of a public health crisis,” said Notley.
“And no Albertan deserves to be threatened at their homes in front of their families by a government MLA and the minister overseeing their profession.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press