Politically motivated: Lawsuit seeks to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ inquiry

Politically motivated: Lawsuit seeks to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ inquiry

EDMONTON — An environmental law firm is asking a court to strike down Alberta’s inquiry into the role that foreign money has in financing the activities of charities that oppose the oilsands.

Ecojustice claims the province’s inquiry into what it calls anti-Alberta activities is politically motivated, prejudges conclusions and is outside provincial jurisdiction.

“It really means something when a government decides to use the judicial process to silence people,” said Devon Page, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench on Thursday.

Soon after the election last spring, the United Conservative government created a $2.5-million inquiry to examine concerns that U.S. environmental charities are funnelling money to their Canadian counterparts in an effort to landlock Alberta oil to benefit U.S. energy companies.

Inquiry commissioner Steve Allan has already been conducting interviews.

The inquiry’s factual premise has been seriously challenged several times, but this is the first challenge to its legality.

“The inquiry has been called not to address a matter of pressing public interest, but to justify a predetermined intent to harm the reputations, economic viability and freedom of expression of certain organizations,” says the lawsuit.

The inquiry’s terms prejudge its findings, alleges the lawsuit, because they assume that such campaigns exist, that they spread lies and that there is a plot to frustrate an industry assumed to have been doing a good environmental job.

The document notes that he government’s order in council applies pejorative terms such as “anti-Alberta” to those who may be subject to the inquiry.

The lawsuit also alleges that inquiry commissioner Steve Allan was a donor to the UCP leadership campaign of Doug Schweitzer, now Alberta’s justice minister, who appointed him to the job.

Those concerns, it claims, “(transform) the inquiry from an independent fact-finding mission into a predetermined demonstration of misconduct, resulting in a reasonable apprehension of bias.”

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the inquiry was a UCP campaign promise.

“This inquiry is long overdue and will examine if, how and why foreign funding has contributed to landlocking our energy sector.

“The inquiry is fully independent. I won’t prejudge any results from commissioner Allan.”

Savage said Ecojustice has received foreign funding.

“Ecojustice’s opposition to the inquiry into the foreign-funded attacks on our oil and gas workers speaks for itself.”

Ecojustice says about 14 per cent of its funding comes from outside Canada.

Jonah Mozeson of Alberta Energy forwarded an article to The Canadian Press from the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London that suggests Russian money has also fuelled energy disinformation campaigns.

It’s not the first time concerns have been raised about the inquiry.

Amnesty International has said it threatens freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Last week, a longtime Edmonton charitable foundation that doesn’t fund environmental groups or receive U.S. money released an open letter that said the inquiry’s assumptions come “dangerously close to government direction of speech and thought.”

Martin Olszynski, a University of Calgary administrative law professor, compares the dispute to when former Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis tried to stop Jehovah’s Witnesses from spreading their message. His attempt was crushed by the courts.

“This has echoes of that previous effort to stifle views that are not consistent with the majority and with the government of that time,” Olszynski said.

There’s no question of criminality in the inquiry, only of disagreeing with the government, he noted. As well, he points out the inquiry doesn’t indicate who might be called as a witness — a bedrock requirement of procedural fairness.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2019.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read