Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney preaching to the converted in New York City (Photo: Facebook).

Ecojustice throws down the gauntlet; Kenney, in New York, responds with bravado; stand by for legal action in 30 days

Posted on September 19, 2019, 2:10 am
6 mins

The Ecojustice Canada Society threw down the gauntlet yesterday and the sound of it landing may well reverberate around the country. It was certainly heard here in Alberta.

The respected Vancouver-based environmental litigation charity handed an ultimatum to Premier Jason Kenney’s “public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns” on Tuesday.

Ecojustice Canada Society Executive Director Devon Page (Photo: Ecojustice)

Its message in a nutshell: Stop acting like a kangaroo court that has already decided the outcome of its deliberations or prepare to be stopped in the courts.

The group’s Alberta lawyers gave Commissioner Steve Allan 30 days to respond to three fundamental flaws they identified in the inquiry and its process:

  • Appearance of bias
  • Potential violations of Canadians’ Charter rights to freedom of expression and association
  • Lack of protections for due process and fair participation

Now, some readers may think such a challenge to Alberta’s United Conservative party is a forlorn hope.

Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan (Photo: AlbertaInquiry.ca)

They may need to think again. For all the money now in the control of Mr. Kenney and the UCP, Canada remains a country of laws where you can’t just make up jurisprudence as you go along in the middle of a show trial presided over by a reliable apparatchik from Calgary because you couldn’t find a real judge willing to take on such a transparently politically motivated assignment.

Moreover, Ecojustice is not made up of hand-wringing tree huggers but hard-nosed lawyers in business for more than 25 years with an excellent track record of success. In this case, I daresay, they have the wind in their sails.

So if Amnesty International’s Sept. 12 open letter was a cri de coeur by idealistic civil libertarians outraged at Mr. Kenney’s apparently willing slide into authoritarianism, the letter emailed off to inquiry Commissioner Allan via Alberta’s notorious enviro-snitch line on Tuesday and released to media yesterday was something considerably sterner.

Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson (Photo: Ecojustice).

It’s not an exaggeration to call it an ultimatum. In addition to eviscerating the intellectual premises of the inquiry piece by piece, it had a tone at times reminiscent of messages from diplomats from countries with plenty of gunboats.

The 14-page letter lays out the society’s legal strategy, presumably because its signatories, Alberta-based Ecojustice lawyers Barry Robinson and Kurt Stilwell, are confident they have the law on their side.

In a news release, Ecojustice Executive Director Devon Page called the inquiry “a political exercise intended to silence and intimidate environmental charities like Ecojustice.”

“It is a targeted attack on organizations working to combat climate change and prepare Albertans – and all Canadians – for the necessary and inevitable shift away from fossil fuels,” Mr. Page said.

He continued, “It is indisputably unconstitutional for the Government of Alberta to interfere with organizations lawfully participating in social and political discourse about Alberta’s energy resources and the environment. Government interference in free speech is unconstitutional, an abuse of power, and ultimately a threat to democracy.”

Ecojustice lawyer Kurt Stilwell (Photo: Ecojustice).

“If the commissioner does not address the fundamental issues of fairness at the heart of this inquiry, Premier Kenney and his government can and should expect further legal action,” Mr. Page said.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Kenney tried to blow this off with his usual bravado, vowing to reporters while visiting far-right think tankers in New York that nothing will change with the way the inquiry will be conducted and accusing Ecojustice of using Alberta as a punching bag.

He also reminded reporters that the inquiry is popular with many voters in Alberta – a statement that is undoubtedly true, although not necessarily much help in a courtroom.

Media reported that the premier’s staff sent reporters links to Ecojustice’s tax returns, which showed less than 14 per cent of its revenue came from foreign donations in the most recent tax year. But as Mr. Page said, “this isn’t the first time a premier has resorted to name calling us. That doesn’t get them anywhere in the courts.”

The lawyers’ letter to Commissioner Allan concluded: “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. … The Government of Alberta has established an Inquiry that is unlawful and potentially unconstitutional.”

After 30 days have passed, presumably, the matter will swiftly go before the courts, which in Canada, unfortunately for Mr. Kenney and the UCP, remain impartial, unbiased and independent.

16 Comments to: Ecojustice throws down the gauntlet; Kenney, in New York, responds with bravado; stand by for legal action in 30 days

  1. Expat Albertan

    September 19th, 2019

    Are Ecojustice’s tax returns public information? If not, is the Alberta government breaking the law by making them public?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      September 19th, 2019

      “Most of the information in a charity’s return is available to the public.” So saith the Canada Revenue Agency. DJC

      Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    September 19th, 2019

    This morning I am mulling over yet another Justin Trudeau idiocy, the issue of his dressing up as Aladdin in 2001 and wearing brown or black face makeup. When he was a teacher at a private school, no less. Did I not dun charter and private schools as hotbeds of establishment elite thought in the comments here only yesterday? Kind of puts Trudeau’s visit to India as PM, dressed up as a minor maharajah with concubine and kids similarly kitted out, into context, does it not?

    The predictable nonsense from Andy Scheer, downhome boy and none-too-bright dimwit, then criticizing Trudeau as racist, was typical. Hey, it’s all right to hang with Faith Goldy, white supremacist, hop into the cabin of trucks with the upside-down right wing Canadian version of the Yellow Vests – yet another bunch of Alberta white supremacists, but Scheer hasn’t got a long enough memory to remember his racist transgressions. Typical Conservative – originators of the barbaric cultural practices tipline. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    A pox on the Liberals and Conservatives, the lot of them.

    My depressed mood at these two establishment racist figures showing their true spots was deep yesterday evening. Therefore I was delighted to read this column this morning, as you can well imagine. Kenney is a loose right wing cannon hoping to develop into an out-and-out demagogue, perfectly willing to gerrymander Canadians’ rights to free speech by imposing official thought control while issuing lies in public, and one can only speculate at the twisted mind the man possesses. It’s certainly not an up-to-date civilized one. Paranoid, devious, full of hate and anger, not willing to concede a woman’s right to the control of her own body as past actions confirm, the man is not fit for public office of any kind, and Albertans should hang their heads in shame at electing him. There is no excuse for doing so. None whatsoever. If that statement cheeses off some Albertans, so be it. You did not do your homework and voted in a domineering autocratic prat, so don’t criticize me for your complete lack of judgement and underinforming yourselves prior to the election.

    I downloaded the pdf file which Ecojustice has sent to the Commissioner of this put-up Kenney “witch-hunt” with its biased terms of reference. It makes enlightening reading. Thank goodness there are people willing to stand up against the forces of Kenney propagandized authoritarianism and bigotry. The federal Liberals also need to be brought to heel on two other issues: the gerrymandered assisted dying Act which does NOT reflect what the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new act must contain; and the Act approved by the unjustly sainted Judy Wilson Raybould that allows any policeman to stop any motorist and conduct tests as to sobriety for NO reason whatsoever, merely on whim – how does that meet Charter rights?

    There is enough horseshit, let’s be blunt here, that our two major parties promulgate to ensure free men and women, good and true must actively avoid supporting either of them for any sane reason. No argument any apologist can come up with trumps the facts on the ground. Useless un-Canadian idiots, trying now to bribe us with our own money into electing them into a Parliament of mostly like-minded undereducated dopes. Change is required.

    I hope and trust Ecojustice will set Kenney back on his more than ample bum, and I couldn’t care less if Albertans think they’re being “got at”. Wake up and realize what country you’re living in, and spare me the whingeing, whining and complaining that you’re being badly treated in this confederation. I’m fed up to the gills with the tone of it. Wake up and be Canadian. We’re in this together, and the continual bleating we hear from your benighted provincial politicians about this and that is just populist rabble-rousing, something you seem happy to embrace. Things need to change. Grow up. Be adult.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      September 19th, 2019

      Thank you, Bill. An uplifting response, and profoundly right. DJC

      Reply
    • Murphy

      September 19th, 2019

      I concur with the blogger, in every respect but the response to Li’l Magus’ black and/or brownface. I simply cannot accept insensitivity as evidence of racism. This is not the hanging of a cotton gin fan around a murdered teen and the dumping of his pulverized corpse in a river. The Canadian Government was an enthusiastic and active partner in the overthrow of Haiti’s government in 2004. As the first colonial slave colony to cast off the yoke of the imperialist Europeans, Haiti has been the object of racist repression ever since. Canada was likewise deeply involved in the overthrow of independent African states under Lumumba and Nkrumah, both atrocities rooted in elite Canadian racism and imperialism. While Trudeau may in fact be the next coming of George Lincoln Rockwell, his costume was hardly evidence of this. The furor over this episode is just not warranted and distracts from the reality of racism inherent in Trudeau’s class.

      Reply
  3. Geoffrey Pounder

    September 19th, 2019

    Me, I’m happy to see the “inquiry” go ahead. The ENGOs have nothing to be afraid of. Vivian Krause’s conspiracy theories are a house of cards. That house needs to be demolished in full public view. One sneeze from Ecojustice ought to do it.
    The “inquiry” will show the world what fools we have in govt. And expose the death grip of the fossil fuel industry on our petro-democracy.

    Reply
  4. Farmer Brian

    September 19th, 2019

    Rob Breakenridge interviewed a lawyer from Ecojustice yesterday on his show. It alway amazes me how evasive lawyers can be with their answers. So I have to side with Jason Kenney on this one, if Ecojustice wasn’t concerned with what the inquiry might discover they wouldn’t be kicking up a fuss. I do however, appreciate your intense dislike of Jason Kenney and his policies as I feel the same way about Justin Trudeau. Enjoy your day.

    Reply
  5. Jim

    September 19th, 2019

    And the champions of free speech and warriors against government overreach on the right say…. Crickets it appears.
    The funny thing about freedom and liberty is that it is so easy to lose and so very difficult to get back. We have watched our freedoms eroded by both conservative and liberal governments in Ottawa over the past 18 years, which to the casual observer gives the appearance that on important issues there isn’t much difference.

    Reply
  6. J.E. Molnar

    September 19th, 2019

    “Mr. Kenney said the public inquiry would continue without changes to probe the foreign funding of environmental charities…” – The Globe and Mail, Sept. 18, 2019

    It would appear, through remarks made yesterday to the media, that Jason Kenney is inclined to salute the legal protestations of Ecojustice and ignore the “rule of law” by offering up the proverbial middle finger.

    This is the same arrogance and entitlement Kenney brought with him from Ontario that was nourished during his ten years in the Stephen Harper administration and reign of error. Is it just me…or is Jason Kenney morphing into Donald Trump — right before our very eyes?

    Reply
  7. Scotty on Denman

    September 19th, 2019

    The APIAEC Commission is designed to distract by daring to be attacked: open challengers instantly become preferred targets who, in some straining of some kind of corporal justice notions of some fur clad, ancient Germanic tribe, will have voluntarily forfeited any claim to truth and deserve everything that’s coming to them. Open challengers are supposed the more-preferred, ‘legitimate’ enemy par excellence—after all, how many of the other names anonymous informants give to the APIAEC “snitch-line” are dubious, spiteful or can be practically verified in any useful way?—especially since the info solicited by the UCP government is largely available to anyone, anyway, if, perhaps, not so very convincing of a grand, “anti-energy” conspiracy in total. The Ecojustice Canada Society’s legal challenge will surely clench every tiny fist in Kangaroo Kenney’s bilious sphictarium that wasn’t already in the wake of Amnesty Canada’s rebuking comment just a week ago—the one that sent him full-pouch-out in tRumpian tantrum. Now the gin is mulled and ready to share among the wagon laager’s pickets. Things is ‘bout to git decided.

    It’s funny how many kangaroo paw prints track back and forth between federal politics and the person of the Albertan premier. Naturally there’s official reasons any Alberta premier would be engaged with the bitumen mining and smelting operations, they being so front and centre in the growing drama of environmental catastrophes that preoccupy federal policy making, both national and international. The Kangaroo plainly channels his vanquished leader from his days as federal minister, back when dilbit-pipeline promotion could try to hop over constitutional rights as the HarperCons honed their ability to game the system to the max. Yet not taking ‘no’ for an answer seems being taken to levels of zealousness in the UCP leader that Stephen Harper could probably not muster of his own nature. The Kangaroo won’t even take ‘yes’ for an answer. It’s apparently not about answers.

    Nevertheless, an eventual hop back to federal politics, presumably when the current federal Conservative leader fails to win government and resigns, has been speculated about the Alberta premiere since before he even announced his interest in the job. Since then, however, the Kangaroo has sallied onto the federal scene far beyond the specific constitutional questions around the actual TMX pipeline—and clean out of sight of the fact it was purchased by all Canadians for his province’s benefit: Perhaps reminiscent of “The West Wants In [to a Canada without Quebec]” days way back at Reform’s inception, the UCP premier has been hopping around to ‘unite-the-right’ trans-provincially, cobbling a sort of Canadian Confederacy ostensibly comprised of federated sovereign interests but conspicuously partisan (all members right-wing party governments) and excluding the other half of federated members. Pressed and refined, the UCP premier has even gone so far as to suggest separation from Canada—or at least suggest the sentiment is swelling in the breast of fellow Albertans who, we will always be reminded, are indisputably Kangaroo friendly.

    The success of gin is Hogarthian in legend. Imbibers don’t seem to appreciate what’s happening to them, insist they’re being controlled by unseen elites and drown their blues with continually claimed disabilities, all so unfair. The bulbous-nosed bitumen-besotted will probably slur the slogans of old soldiers, their loyalty, at least, unquestioned. It’s a remarkable level of intoxication required to blur the fact that without the essential elements of bitumen feasibility —especially of that all-important global market price—there’s no prospect that the APIAEC or any of the UCP’s other reactionary policies will improve the industry’s, the workers’ or the citizenry’s lot (whereas a cogent reassessment of global trend away from petroleum fuels—the dirtiest prioritized—and transition to other, less-polluting uses of the resource might).

    In other words, Kangaroo Kenney’s federal aspirations and the tactics he’s deployed at about midway between leaving and returning to the Hill strategically are asking an awful lot of Albertans, both petrochemical workers and other citizens: they must have faith, ignore what they might see on ‘outsider’ news that refutes the continuous bitumen industrial growth model (now focused on the temporary shiny things stacked in pipeyards awaiting assembly to nowhere for nothing—which of course is invisible, as yet) and not think about how the ideological prerequisites of the conspiracy theory —mixed in strong gin—will cause them to suffer more before this gets all to where it’s going anyway, like a multi-year wake. Albertans don’t seem to appreciate they’ll be the worse for wear by this route, but many spit, swear, salute and sing the paean at the suggestion there’s a better way. Better for them, that is, because it’s better for everyone. The gin is such a lonely cup.

    All for Jason the Kangaroo who, when the time is right will pack up his pouch and hop straight back to Ottawa? One’d have to be ginned aplenty to imagine such a strategy beneficial to the bitumen industry, even in the short run.

    One got the feeling that, left on its own, the APIAEC would have provided nothing more than a very long, boring wait to produce something of use from its inquiry. What would have happened if nobody challenged it like ECS has just done? I’d have wagered some pretext would have been conjured, but this one suits the Kangaroo just fine, involving trans provincial jurisdictions and interests as it does. Now he has a choice: start up another bucket of gin mash, strut and crow, or simply wait until ECS’s 30-day ultimatum arrives. Personally, I look forward to a little suspense—it’s been stultifyingly dull staring at the acronym that sounds like a flatulence remedy and wondering what on earth it might issue.

    Finally, has the timing of the 30-day ultimatum been designed to influence any part of the current federal election campaign, given that it’s due (and presumably actionable) before voting day? Alberta’s in there like a dirty shirt. It’s enough to get a provincial Kangaroo hopping with federal anticipation.

    Reply
    • dave from Athabasca

      September 20th, 2019

      Scotty on Denman – really appreciate your analysis. It is spot on. The one point which has not been raised into the discussion is “water”. I believe the invisible reason for the TMX is Water(now focused on the temporary shiny things stacked in pipeyards awaiting assembly to nowhere for nothing—which of course is invisible, as yet). Here in the captured state when the changes made by Harper and Kenny at the federal level regarding resource extraction projects not requiring any environmental or other assessment (Pipelines right of ways, railroads, power transmission lines, mining, oil and gas, “last but not least” (my term) GROUNDWATER.) In Alberta the infamous AER the wholly-owned subsidiary of CAPP, Canadian Oil and Gas Association, Pipeline Association etc became the regulator for projects from the cradle to the grave. The AER became the licensing body and regulator as well, for Water – and implementation of the Alberta Water Act. Shiny pipelines can carry lots of water. Potable water is only one product. Also, contaminated water can travel in both directions in a sophisticated, coordinated infrastructure plan. Knowing where abandoned oil wells are which can be turned into toxic contaminated underground storage sites.
      Water is the future black gold turned into clear gold within the current and future markets of wealth globally. Sources have provided information that Tar Sands operators have a “water market” selling water to SAGD plants. I guess what we do not know can remain unconscious to many.

      Reply
  8. Dave

    September 19th, 2019

    Mr. Kenney I gather is quite a showman good at rousing up people inclined to support him and his various Conservative parties, whatever name they go by. I believe there are at least five different party names over his career. He is also apparently fairly good at organizing them and to some extent demonizing his opponents, while minimizing anything they might have on him. However, one thing he is not definitely as good at is winning court cases.

    He seemed to imply during our provincial election that somehow he would make all those pesky court cases related to pipelines go away in a way others could not, although it was never quite clear how he would do that. In any event, he hasn’t been successful so far. The carbon tax battle with other provinces against the Federal government that Kenney eagerly joined has also not been successful in the courts so far either.

    If the letters from Amnesty International and Ecojustice are not embarrassing enough on their own, a loss in the courts on the issue of his inquiry into foreign involvement in environmental activies in Alberta, would be very embarrassing. Not only would it stop Mr. Kenney’s current main strategy to demonize environmentalists right in its tracks, which would be a tactical defeat, but it would also show the Alberta government and Mr. Kenney to be both petty and clumsy.

    It is ironic with all this talk recently, at least by Mr. Kenney and his supporters, about this issue that the level of foreign financial support seems relatively modest, at around 10 – 15% of funding and there is actually nothing illegal about it. Of course for years there has been foreign involvement in the oilsands as US and other foreign oil companies (some state owned/some private) from all over the world eagerly bought in mostly when oil prices were at their highest. For the most part, Mr. Harper’s government of which Mr. Kenney was a part of, seemed fine with all that, except for some reservations about the Chinese. Therefore, it seems Mr. Kenney’s more recent concern about foreign involvement is a bit of a double standard.

    I suppose Mr. Kenney is free to ride whatever political hobby horse he thinks will keep him in power, stir up his supporters and distract from other things, but the problem arises when he uses the power of the state and judicial proceedings as a prop to further his theatrics.

    Reply
  9. September 19th, 2019

    Super piece on the Ecojustice challenge to the Public Inquiry. The best published on the subject by far.

    Reply
  10. Lorraine

    September 19th, 2019

    Vancouver based. No surprise here.

    Reply
    • CovKid

      September 20th, 2019

      Were you referring to “Scotty On Denman” or couldn’t be bothered to look up that our esteemed informant is based in balmy St. Albert, AB.?

      Reply
  11. Paul

    September 22nd, 2019

    David,
    I wish I shared your confidence regarding the probity of Alberta’s courts. I think the fate of Jessica Ernst before the legal / regulatory system in Alberta should temper our optimism.

    Reply

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