EDMONTON — Alberta’s premier is standing by comments that the judicial system is coddling Greenpeace protesters who disrupt oilsands operations and that he will work to change that.
“What I expressed on behalf of all Albertans is true,” Ed Stelmach said.
“In fact, many Albertans through e-mails, phone calls, or social events said it’s about time somebody stood up for Alberta.
“We are responsible energy developers and we have to get that message out.”
Stelmach was responding to the furor that arose from comments he and Solicitor General Fred Lindsay made when 16 Greenpeace protesters were arrested after demonstrating at an oilsands upgrader plant near Edmonton over the weekend.
Legal scholars and defence lawyers said the comments suggested the government was interfering in the judicial process, breaching the understood barrier that it’s unhealthy for democracy when those who make the laws also get to decide how and against whom those laws are enforced.
“I don’t know where you’re even coming from (with the suggestion) we’ve closed the separation between the legislative branch and the judicial branch. It’s nonsense,” said Stelmach.
How, he was asked, have his comments not breached that boundary?
“Because they haven’t.”
The weekend demonstration was Greenpeace’s third such disruption in the last few weeks at oilsands operations. The group says it is trying to draw attention to the oilsands’ impact on global warming and environmental degradation.
“We’re coddling people who are breaking the law,” Stelmach said at the time, adding that Lindsay “will be reviewing all of the guidelines that we have in place and will be reporting back to me.”
Lindsay suggested Alberta might use its counter-terrorism plan against future protests. On Tuesday, he said he never meant to imply the protesters were indeed terrorists.
Brian Beresh, lawyer for the 16, suggested political interference may have already affected his clients.
He said prosecutors had no objections to bail Saturday for any of the activists. But during hearings on Sunday, after Stelmach’s remarks appeared in print, the Crown objected to bail for several of them.
“It caused me to wonder whether or not the premier’s comments had that immediate an effect,” said Beresh.
Charges against the activists have also escalated.
No one was charged after the first protest Sept. 15 at Shell’s Muskeg River oilsands mine. But mischief charges were laid after a Sept. 30 attempt to block production at Suncor’s upgrader near Fort McMurray — despite Suncor’s original declaration it wouldn’t seek legal remedy.
And the break-and-enter charges laid after the third demonstration were the first use of the Criminal Code.
labelled Stelmach’s comments as the most blatant case of political interference since 1997, when then-premier Ralph Klein told judges they were civil servants who could be hired and fired at will.
Beresh compared the political climate to McCarthyism, a period of hysteria in the United States in the 1950s, when people were accused by government leaders of communist sympathies, often on little to no evidence. Lives and careers were destroyed.
Stelmach chuckled when asked about the McCarthy reference. He said Beresh is wrong if he thinks the government is trying to influence the process.
“It is now before the courts and the courts will decide.”
Beresh, however, has