Former minister’s wife details driveway interaction, ‘threatening’ email at law society hearing

The wife of a former Alberta minister took the stand and provided testimony in a conduct hearing by the Law Society of Alberta on Tuesday morning.

Tyler Shandro is accused of bringing disrepute to the legal profession following an altercation at a Calgary doctor’s home, obtaining the private cellphone numbers to contact two doctors outside of business hours, and responding to a message to his wife from a member of the public and threatening to refer that individuals to the authorities.

She called the doctor an “internet troll” and said despite her view that the specific message was threatening, she was advised it was not a threat.

At the center of controversy

Andrea Shandro, Tyler’s wife, is a principal at Vital Partners Inc., a third-party health brokerage company she co-founded with her sister.

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That company was at the center of a maelstrom of misinformation shortly after the province changed Blue Cross coverage eligibility for spouses of seniors in early 2020.

Albertans drew connections between the government’s decision, Tyler’s role as then-health minister, and the Shandros’ holdings in the health benefits brokerage. The Shandros were then inundated with messages from the public accusing Tyler of a conflict of interest.

Andrea’s half of the shares in Vital Partners are held in holdings company Shandro Holdings as part of an “accounting structure.” She said Tyler was a shareholder despite not having anything to do with the company.

His shares were placed in a blind trust, a move the ethics commissioner said was in line with legislative requirements.

Click to play video: 'Tyler Shandro asks law society to throw out conduct hearings, citing jurisdiction'

Tyler Shandro asks law society to throw out conduct hearings, citing jurisdiction

Her role with the company was in marketing, so any external communications via the company came directly to her, communications – emails, messages, phone calls and voice messages – that she said took a nasty turn around March 10, 2020.

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“Just really horrible commentary and threats,” Andrea said, as she began to choke up. “One that really stuck out that said, ‘Watch your back when you get to your office.’”

Normally a person who, by her own admission, tries not to get too emotional, Andrea said the “watch your back” message sent to her on March 20, 2020, causing her to become upset and concerned for her sister’s and employee safety. She dropped her two children off at a family member’s home and called her office urging everyone to vacate the building, since the address was on their website.

The next day with Tyler home from Edmonton, the Shandros were visited by CPS officers to talk about the threatening communications aimed at them and how to improve their safety.

‘Threatening’ e-mails

On March 20, 2020, another message submitted to the Vital Partners website from Janice Fraser, who knew Tyler from previous legal and political work, addressed Andrea directly saying the Shandros “are considered to be in a conflict of interest by Albertans. We will not forget!”

That message included Fraser’s phone number and email address, where all other messages submitted to the company website used spoofed contact info.

On the advice of her husband and his political staff’s advice, Andrea sent all of the vitriolic messages to the government’s protective services and to Neil Lettis, a superintendent with the Alberta Sheriff Executive Protection Unit.

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Fraser’s message was also unique in that Andrea sent it directly to her husband and members of his staff.

Andrea said she was unaware of Fraser’s prior interactions with her husband.

Click to play video: ''I was definitely not yelling': Shandro recounts driveway confrontation with Calgary doctor'

‘I was definitely not yelling’: Shandro recounts driveway confrontation with Calgary doctor

Andrea also said she, at first, tried to “respond in a meaningful way” to “set the record straight.” She said she felt Fraser’s message was threatening, but was later told by Lettis the messages up to March 27, 2020 “were threatening, but they were not threats. That is splicing words to me.”

Lettis testified that the Shandros received what authorities categorize as “inappropriate contact and communication” (ICC) around this time, in increasing volumes.

Through what was forwarded by the Shandros, he and his colleagues at sheriffs and protective services saw the Shandros experienced “aggressive” ICC “filtered toward Mrs. Shandro.”

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Lettis would contact CPS to make them aware of the “significant ICC” being directed at the Shandros.

After receiving the message forwarded from his wife, Tyler would write back to Fraser using his government email address, saying that sending “threatening emails” to his wife was inappropriate and must stop. He also said Fraser could send emails to his office.

“Email her again and it will be referred to protective services,” Tyler wrote.

A member of Tyler’s staff also forwarded Fraser’s message to Lettis.

On day 2 of the hearings in January, Fraser said Tyler’s response “felt extremely threatening. It petrified me.”

Talking to an ‘internet troll’

Andrea also provided a third perspective on the events leading up to and at the driveway of Dr. Mukarram Zaidi.

While monitoring social media on March 21, 2020, she said she came across a meme posted by Zaidi that pictured Tyler with a thought the bubble was intimating Tyler would profit by removing people from public health care – a move that’s prohibited by the Canada Health Act.

She showed it to her husband who then said “That’s our neighbor. I’m going to be back in a minute.”

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Andrea said a couple of minutes passed before she decided she would follow her husband to Zaidi’s home, around the corner from the Shandro home.

“I did not want him to talk to an internet troll,” she said. “In the context of everything the week before, a bunch of doctors made up stuff about me and my company, yes this was an internet troll.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta minister Tyler Shandro takes stand at law society conduct hearing'

Alberta minister Tyler Shandro takes a stand at law society conduct hearing

Prior to the interaction, Andrea said she only knew the doctor “in a cursory way,” mostly interacting by greeting each other while out walking in their shared neighborhood.

She said both men were standing about six feet apart and had their hands in their pockets, speaking at a volume of a “regular conversation.”

Andrea said she went around Tyler’s side and tried to push him back home.

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“I do remember saying ‘Tyler he doesn’t care about the truth, all he cares about is money.’”

Andrea said her husband was not yelling or crying, but she started crying when she reached her husband’s side.

Zaidi previously tested that the then-health minister arrived at his driveway in “a high emotional state.”

“He did not have high emotion,” Andrea said Tuesday. “He was not very upset. He was trying to explain toDr. Zaidi what Vital Partners does.”

Ethics commissioner approved blind trust

Ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler also provided testimony Tuesday, saying she met Tyler the week after the 2019 election, before he was named minister.

“We had a thorough discussion of his wife’s company,” Trussler said.

The following week, the ethics commissioner requested Tyler resign as a director at Vital Partners – as required by the Conflict of Interest Act – and place his shares in the company in a blind trust – a step beyond what the Act requires and to address the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“I saw the trust agreement. I have to approve all trust agreements,” Trussler said.

All MLAs have to submit annual reports of all of their assets and incomes to the ethics commissioner.

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Click to play video: 'Doctors testify at law society hearing into past conduct by Tyler Shandro: 'How did he track me down?''

Doctors testify at law society hearing into past conduct by Tyler Shandro: ‘How did he track me down?’

In March 2020, after the changes to seniors’ Blue Cross coverage, the ethics commissioner started getting an increased volume of complaints and requests to investigate the then-health minister’s connections to Vital Partners.

Trussler reviewed the information she had on file and reviewed the company’s website. Seeing Vital Partners only provided group benefits for companies and not personal coverage, the ethics commissioner deemed there was no need for a full investigation and wrote a letter on March 20, 2020 to then-Speaker Nathan Cooper outlining the situation.

The then-MLA would call the ethics commissioner five days later seeking advice.

“I could just commiserate with him,” Trussler said.

Closing arguments take place on Wednesday. The hearing committee will also hear the interim application regarding the law society’s jurisdiction, made on Monday.

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If the law society decides to sanction the former minister for his actions, those sanctions can range from disbarment at the most severe, to suspension, reprimand, imposing conditions of legal practice, or payment of penalties.

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