Premier’s comments may spring activists

Remarks by Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach may provide a defence for the Greenpeace protesters he says he’d like to see treated more harshly.

EDMONTON — Remarks by Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach may provide a defence for the Greenpeace protesters he says he’d like to see treated more harshly.

Stelmach said on the weekend that those who have blocked activities at oilsands facilities to bring attention to climate change are being coddled. He also suggested he would work with legal officials to find ways to stop them.

Lawyers and legal experts say those comments leave the impression of political interference in the courts — which could give the activists a potent argument when they appear before a judge Nov. 4.

“An outsider could think that this is a show trial,” said Sanjiv Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta.

Sixteen people were charged Saturday with mischief and breaking and entering after they climbed smokestacks and a crane on Shell Canada’s upgrader project near Edmonton. It was the third such protest in as many weeks.

“It’s always been thought that the office of the Crown prosecutor should be politically at arm’s length from the government of the day,” said Tom Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association.

“When you have the premier starting to talk about what approach the government is going to take, it’s pretty easy for people to understand from that, that that’s what the marching orders are going to be that the prosecutors are going to follow.”

“It also has the appearance of almost being a mouthpiece for the oil industry.”

Government officials and politicians normally decline comment on cases before the courts.

But in an email, government spokesman Tom Olsen said that the premier “wants to ensure there is an appropriate level of security at critical infrastructure sites (and) that individuals charged … with these types of activities are appropriately prosecuted under provincial law.”

Stelmach also characterized the protesters — who are trying to draw the world’s attention to the impact the oilsands are having on climate change — as “tourists” out to damage the livelihoods of Albertans and other Canadians.

In fact, only four of those arrested came from outside Canada. Five were from Alberta and seven from other provinces.

“I’m from Alberta. This is where I’ve grown up. This is where my heart is,” Logan McIntosh, 20, said Monday. “Calling us tourists, that was an attempt to distract us from the issue that we are here to make sure that Canadians and citizens of our world understand.”

Luana Addario, a government biologist and rainforest activist from Brazil, defended her right to oppose activities that she believes harm the planet.

“The tarsands are not just a Canadian problem; they’re a global problem.”

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