Soon Commissioner Steve Allan will submit to the Alberta government his final report of the “The Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns”. We’ve read the draft – and our review of it shows that it promises to be a continuation of the gong show that has been underway for two years. It will rightfully be seen by almost everyone as a political stunt, and should normally be ignored as such, if only its content and intended purpose were not such a threat to public debate in Canada.

In late June, Environmental Defence (along with many other environmental organizations, foundations and individuals) received formal notice that the Inquiry’s report would likely include “findings that may be made in respect to our organization and of the evidence upon which those potential findings may be based.” Finally, on July 1st, we were given an opportunity to view these potential findings and the purported evidence through a special “Data Room” and told that we could respond to these findings by July 16, 2021 – barely two working weeks in mid-summer at the end of a two year inquiry.

No wrongdoing but guilty anyway

The formal notice from Commissioner Allan also stated: “As well, should I ultimately make a finding in respect of you, I will clearly declare that such a finding, if any, does not in any way suggest that the activities on which I might base a finding have been unlawful or dishonest, or that the conduct on which I might base a finding should in any way be impugned.”

A Shifting Mandate

The notice also re-defines the mandate given to the Inquiry by the Alberta government to no longer focus on whether any of the publications, government submissions or statements of our organization or others were inaccurate or misleading. Instead, the Commissioner has created his own mandate to investigate only whether anyone said anything negative about oil sands development, regardless of the scientific, economic or social merit of these statements.

So in other words, the commission is saying that all of Environmental Defence’s activities to protect the climate and question oil sands impacts in Alberta are legal and honest. But that did not stop him from writing a draft report that tries to lead a reader to conclude the opposite.

Misleading “Evidence”

And so armed with his new self-created mandate the Commissioner has crafted a draft document consisting of screen grabs of our website, google searches and our Canada Revenue Agency filings. It takes this selectively-chosen information and spins a narrative about our organization being “Anti-Alberta energy” that is devoid of context, balance or analysis, and in many cases misleads the reader to reach conclusions not supported by the material presented.

You can read our response to their draft report here to get a full picture of their findings about Environmental Defence and our responses to it.

An alarming use of government powers

We should care about this fiasco for several reasons:

  • It attempts to marginalize and demonize organizations and individuals who are doing their job to protect Canadians from the ecological ravages of a changing climate, the impacts of oil and gas water, air and land pollution and economic catastrophe that will befall workers and communities that will be left behind as the world runs towards cleaner energy sources;
  • It equates “Alberta Anti-Energy Campaigns” with any efforts to question fossil fuels. It ignores all work done to encourage and develop alternative energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, conservation, etc.;
  • It completely ignores all of the collaborative work organizations, including Environmental Defence, have done with the Alberta government and the oil and gas industry;
  • It declares any effort to protect lands, forests or wetlands from B.C. to Ontario as inherently anti-Alberta energy because such protected lands might get in the way of pipeline that oil and gas companies want to build;
  • It tries to fool Canadians into thinking that only in Canada do civil society organizations resist oil and gas development, and that the rest of the world is happy to encourage the impacts of more oil and gas development
  • It is $3.5 million of Albertans’ money spent to show that organizations like ours are doing our job to protect the environment, which we have never tried to hide;
  • It is an alarming use of the power of government to try to intimidate and silence civil society organizations and it smells of tactics being increasingly used in totalitarian states

Politically-motivated inquiries such as this one are the hallmark of repressive regimes and have no place in a democracy like Alberta and Canada. It is an embarrassment and so it is not surprising that the draft final report of the Inquiry is as well. Premier Kenney should finally do the right thing, and toss it in the trash and apologize for launching the Inquiry in the first place.