After giving Jason Kenney more than two months to apologize for or retract his claims they spread false information about Alberta’s fossil fuel industry, five environmental groups followed through yesterday on their threat to sue Alberta’s premier and the provincial government for defamation.
In a statement of claim filed with Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton, the five organizations allege Mr. Kenney personally deliberately misrepresented the findings of the report of the so-called “Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns” to defame them.
“Our goals are to seek an apology and retraction of the untrue statements made by the Alberta Government and Mr. Kenney about our organizations, which undermine our ability to educate Canadians about the risks and solutions to the climate crisis,” Environmental Defence Canada Executive Director Tim Gray said today.
“All we asked for was a correction and an apology, but Premier Kenney refuses to retract the false statements he made and apologize for lying about the results of the Alberta Inquiry,” Mr. Gray said.
This will probably do no harm to Premier Kenney in the short term – United Conservative Party members may well reward him for fighting with environmental groups when his leadership review takes place in April.
In the longer term, though, the suit has the potential to reveal in testimony some interesting details of what the UCP was up to when it plotted its strategy to go after environmental non-governmental organizations critical of oilsands development early in the Kenney Government’s mandate.
Suing a government for defamation is unusual. Nevertheless, the Alberta Proceedings Against the Crown Act states that “the Crown is subject to all those liabilities in tort to which, if it were a person of full age and capacity, it would be subject.” Interestingly, in the United States, no judicial remedy exists when a federal official defames someone.
Mr. Gray said he thinks it unlikely the environmental NGOs would drop their lawsuit in the months ahead even if Mr. Kenney were to leave office. That would not “change the nature of the resolution that we are seeking,” he said.
The five plaintiffs are West Coast Environmental Law, Dogwood Initiative, Stand.earth, Environmental Defence Canada, and the Wilderness Committee.
Over a two-year period, the ENGOs said in a news release today, “groups and individuals were named publicly and targeted on social media, causing some individuals to receive death threats. At a 2019 press conference where Premier Kenney discussed the Alberta Energy War Room, a poster of one of the plaintiffs, Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth, covered with a red circle and slash, was displayed at a government press conference without condemnation.”
The organizations are seeking $15,000 each in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages from Mr. Kenney, “to dissuade him and other Canadian public officials from using the power of their office to bully their critics.”
Mr. Kenney has not yet filed a statement of defence. No court date has been set.
CORRECTION: The five plaintiffs in the case are West Coast Environmental Law, Dogwood Initiative, Stand.earth, Environmental Defence Canada, and the Wilderness Committee. An out-of-date list listing some addtional ENGOs’ names was published in the original version of this story. AlbertaPolitics.ca regrets the error.