Alberta inquiry into oil and gas foes could face legal challenge from Ecojustice

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly accused U.S. charities of bankrolling efforts

An environmental law group is threatening legal action if the Alberta government’s inquiry into foreign funding of oil and gas industry foes continues as is.

Vancouver-based Ecojustice has given inquiry commissioner Steve Allan 30 days to respond to a letter detailing its concerns and proposing ways to address some of them.

“It is Ecojustice’s submission that the inquiry is ill-conceived, promulgated for purely political purposes and does not meet the test of expediency or being in the public interest,” lawyers Barry Robinson and Kurt Stilwell write in the letter dated Tuesday.

The $2.5-million inquiry in its current form is “unlawful and potentially unconstitutional,” they argue.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, often citing the work of Vancouver writer Vivian Krause, has repeatedly accused U.S. charities of bankrolling efforts to block Canadian energy in a concerted “campaign of lies and defamation.”

The inquiry is one plank of the United Conservative government’s strategy to fight back against critics of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, which has struggled to get its product to markets as new pipelines are mired in delays.

Ecojustice says in the letter there’s a reasonable apprehension that the inquiry will be biased against the groups it’s investigating. It says Kenney’s public comments — as well as the wording of the inquiry’s terms of reference — prejudge the outcome and label environmental campaigns as “anti-Alberta.”

The group also says the inquiry risks violating rights to freedom of expression and association protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ecojustice adds that the inquiry must be procedurally fair, meaning anyone called before it must be able to cross-examine witnesses and receive copies of documents submitted as evidence, among other things.

It’s proposing amendments to the inquiry’s terms of reference that would fix some of those issues.

The public inquiry is meant to shed a spotlight on the “foreign-funded campaign to landlock Alberta energy,” Kenney said Wednesday.

“Why are these groups so agitated by that? What are they afraid of? What are they trying to hide?” he said during a teleconference call from New York City, where he is promoting Alberta to U.S. investors.

He said he hadn’t read the Ecojustice letter, but added that it sounded like a “regurgitation of the laughable letter from Amnesty International last week,” in which the global human rights group’s Canadian branch said it was “deeply concerned” with Alberta’s fight-back strategy.

“I understand why these groups are hyperventilating. They have been able, for over a decade, to engage in a systematic campaign to defame Alberta’s responsible energy production without transparency, without any pushback. The sort of letters we’re getting now … confirm that we are on exactly the right track.”

Kenney’s press secretary later sent media a link to Ecojustice’s tax returns filed with the Canada Revenue Agency in which it discloses how much of its revenue comes from foreign sources. Last year, it received just over $1 million from outside Canada — about 14 per cent of its total annual revenue during the period.

Allan, the commissioner, is a forensic and restructuring accountant with more than 40 years of experience. His ability to compel witness testimony and records is limited to Alberta, but Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer has said much of the information Allan needs is publicly available. He’ll be able to travel outside Alberta to gather more.

The inquiry’s first phase is to focus on fact-finding. Public hearings are to follow if necessary. Allan is to deliver his final report to the government next summer.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mother, daughter event focuses on family connection

Unstoppable Mother Daughter Night Out: A fun evening for girls

Synchronized Skating National Qualifying Event hosted in Red Deer Alberta Jan. 25th-26th

The 2020 Mountain Regional Synchronized Skating Championships are part of the National qualifying system

The Stettler ATOM female team will be having a Hockey Fights Hunger Food Drive Feb. 8th

Drop off locations will include Canadian Tire, No Frills and Sobeys from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

County council approves “challenging budget”

Provincial government cuts affect County’s revenue sources

VIDEO: Mass coronavirus quarantines seen in China won’t happen in Canada, authorities say

‘If a case comes here, and it is probably … it will still be business as normal’

RCMP receive tip on Amber Tuccaro’s homicide file

Banff RCMP contacted by a male who alleged that his father may be responsible for a missing person

Here’s what Canada is doing to stop the coronavirus from getting in

Health officials are monitoring multiple possible cases in Canada

Blackfalds RCMP investigate fatal motor vehicle collision

Collision occurred at the intersection of Highway 11 and Burnt Lake Trail

Former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse in B.C. granted day parole

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s

Alberta privacy watchdog investigates ID scans at liquor stores

Alcanna Ltd., based in Edmonton, runs Liquor Depot, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis stores

Survey finds support among Canadians for broader assisted-dying law

The survey was conducted Jan. 17 to 21 among 1,552 Canadians eligible to vote

New nasal spray launched in Canada to combat hypoglycemic shock in diabetics

Baqsimi is a nasal spray contains three milligrams of glucagon

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

Most Read