An oil and gas pumpjack is shown near Cremona, Alta., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. An environmental law charity is asking a judge to shut down Alberta’s inquiry into the purported foreign funding of anti-oil environmental campaigns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

An oil and gas pumpjack is shown near Cremona, Alta., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. An environmental law charity is asking a judge to shut down Alberta’s inquiry into the purported foreign funding of anti-oil environmental campaigns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Political gunfight:’ Environmental law group challenges Alberta oil inquiry in court

Ecojustice also argues there is a reasonable apprehension that the inquiry is biased

An environmental charity argues an inquiry into alleged foreign-led campaigns targeting the oil and gas sector set out to label green groups as anti-Alberta and disrupt their funding before hearing any evidence.

“This is a political gunfight intended to target, intimidate and harm organizations that hold views that differ from those of the government,” Barry Robinson told Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Karen Horner by video conference Thursday.

Ecojustice argues the inquiry, a plank of the “fight-back” strategy the United Conservatives touted during the 2019 election campaign, was formed for an improper purpose.

Public inquiries are meant to investigate tragedies or “worrisome matters of public concern,” and the inquiry headed by forensic accountant Steve Allan does neither of those things, Robinson argued.

Lawyers for the provincial government say in their written submissions that cabinet is entitled — and mandated — to decide what’s in the public interest and what issues warrant a public inquiry. They also say that questions before the inquiry concern the province’s economic viability.

Ecojustice also argues there is a reasonable apprehension that the inquiry is biased.

When the inquiry was announced in July 2019, Premier Jason Kenney stated Alberta had been the target of a “propaganda campaign to defame the energy industry and landlock Alberta’s resources” that was funded by “certain U.S. foundations,” Robinson told court.

“These are all stated as known before any evidence has been put before the inquiry,” Robinson said. Ecojustice’s view is that later tweaks to the inquiry’s terms of reference don’t allay bias concerns, he added.

Robinson also said Kenney and his party stated repeatedly that the inquiry’s results could be used to challenge the charitable status of certain groups and disrupt their funding from government sources.

He suggested that the phrase “anti-Alberta campaigns” in the inquiry’s terms of reference is problematic.

“The freedom to express opinions, perspectives and positions that differ from the government of Alberta or the Alberta oil and gas industry without being labelled as anti-Alberta … is surely important in a free and democratic society.”

Robinson also told court that Allan donated to and actively campaigned for Doug Schweitzer in the 2019 election campaign. Schweitzer would months later, as justice minister, decry a “foreign-funded misinformation campaign” during a news conference to announce the inquiry, court heard.

“I submit that it would be very difficult for any reasonably informed bystander to view Mr. Allan as sufficiently independent,” Robinson said.

A brief submitted on behalf of Allan notes he has donated to campaigns across the political spectrum, but Robinson countered the amount for the UCP far eclipses those to other parties. The Alberta government’s written submissions say politicians’ partisan comments are distinct from Allan’s presumed impartiality.

Ecojustice is also arguing that the inquiry deals with matters outside Alberta’s jurisdiction, such as international and interprovincial flows of money and regulation of charities. The province counters that the defence of its natural resources industry is well within its purview.

The deadline for Allan to deliver his report to the government has been delayed three times and the inquiry’s budget has been increased by $1 million to $3.5 million.

The hearing into Ecojustice’s challenge has been scheduled for two days. Its initial date last April was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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

Just Posted

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Economists “cautiously hopeful” for economic recovery in Alberta

Charles St. Arnaud says Alberta’s recover will rebound along with roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

The remains of Terry Bearden’s property before a demolition crew came in to remove debris. (Photo submitted)
Rimbey arson case may have a lead thanks to reward offered by owner

Anonymous tip alleges the fire was set by three local males

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning to people who use the backcountry in the mountains of western Alberta and eastern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Avalanche Canada special warning for mountains in western Alberta, eastern B.C.

Avalanche Canada also says everyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Most Read