Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says her newly named parliamentary secretary for civil liberties will keep an eye on matters from campus free speech to excessive use of police force.
The government’s website indicates Tracy Allard, who represents Grande Prairie in the legislature, was appointed to the post on Tuesday.
No official announcement was made, but when asked about it on her province-wide radio program on Saturday morning, Smith said the need for the position became apparent during the recent fall session.
Smith said that as her government introduced a bill to abolish adverse possession — or squatter’s rights — questions arose on what more could be done to protect private property rights.
And she said Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides is concerned about campus free speech and whether legislation is needed to preserve people’s right to speak their minds openly on campuses.
Allard left former premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet in January 2021 after a public outcry over a trip to Hawaii for Christmas, despite the government urging Albertans to stay home to limit the spread of COVID-19. Later that spring, she was among a large group of backbenchers who publicly condemned a return to stricter health restrictions.
“There’s a whole range of things that came up in this fall session and it seemed to me having a parliamentary secretary focused on property and civil rights would allow for her to give us some advice on how we might be able to address these in legislation,” Smith told the radio audience Saturday.
“And as we go forward, if there are bills that we’re passing, just having somebody with the lens of saying, ‘Is this making sure that we’re protecting all of the rights that are protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?’”
Smith also noted that changes to the Police Act, which set a plan for a new independent agency to receive complaints, carry out investigations and conduct disciplinary hearings against police, raised concerns about whether more work was needed on the issue of excessive use of force.
She said there are other civil liberties concerns regarding prospective federal gun legislation, as well as potential new laws that aim to force digital platforms to enter into compensation agreements with news companies whose journalistic content they share.
“I’ve been talking with some of the members of the media, and in particular the alternative media, who are very concerned about some of the laws that are coming down at the federal level that they think might run them out of business because they’re interfering with their ability to freely put messages out there,” Smith said.
Despite Allard’s criticism of public health restrictions, protesters angry about COVID-19 rules left a crude gallows with slogans like, “No to masks” and “End the government” outside her home in Grande Prairie in late October 2021.
At the time, Allard called the threats and intimidation inexcusable and said her private life and her family are out of bounds to protesters.
Allard could not immediately be reached for comment about her new appointment.
Smith did not mention protection for people unvaccinated against COVID-19 when speaking about areas that Allard’s role would address.
On her first day as premier in October, Smith called those unvaccinated residents the most discriminated-against group she had seen in her lifetime and had promised to introduce legislation in the fall to enshrine protections for them into the provincial human rights law.
But she later backed down from that plan, saying the problem had become somewhat moot with most employers not having vaccine rules. She also said she wanted a more detailed analysis in order to find more durable, broader, long-term solutions and protections later.
Smith said her government would instead pressure businesses and organizations that have vaccine mandates to reconsider them.