Coalition of environmental groups threatens to sue Alberta Premier Jason Kenney over investigative remarks

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney addresses delegates at the UCP’s annual convention in Calgary on November 20.TODD ​​KOROL / Reuters

A coalition of at least eight environmental groups threatens to sue Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for defamation if he does not back down and apologize for statements saying a public inquiry found they spread disinformation about the province’s oil and gas industry.

The groups, in a letter obtained by The Canadian Press, gave the Prime Minister a week before declaring that they would file a statement against him.

“If Premier Kenney does not take the good advice of his lawyers, he will be served legal action by the end of next week,” said Paul Champ, an attorney for environmentalists.

The letter, delivered to Kenney’s office on Monday, is signed by Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defense Canada, Greenpeace Canada, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, Sierra Club of British Columbia Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law and Research Foundation and Western Canada Committee. of nature.

They point to Kenney’s reaction to the investigation, led by Steve Allan, which sought to determine whether environmental groups were conspiring to enclose Alberta’s oil by spreading misinformation about its environmental impacts.

Allan’s report, delivered in October, found that “no individual or organization… has done anything illegal. Indeed, they exercised their right to freedom of expression.

But the groups accuse Kenney of deliberately distorting Allan’s findings in public statements, social media posts and government websites. Specific documents are referenced in the letter.

“These statements are defamatory because they claim that our clients have disseminated ‘disinformation’, the letter said. ‘Alberta had concluded that the groups were disseminating disinformation. “

The letter gives Kenney until November 30 to retract and delete the statements as well as to apologize. If he doesn’t, Champ said, a statement against him is almost complete and will be filed.

Kenney’s spokesperson Harrison Fleming responded in an email.

“We are not surprised that an organization that regularly pursues political activism in court is once again threatening legal action. We will of course respond vigorously in court, if and when necessary. “

A libel action must prove three things, said Fred Kozak, a media and defamation lawyer in Edmonton. It must show the offensive remarks identified by the complainants, that the statements have been published and that they would damage their reputation.

“(These items) would appear to be pretty straightforward,” he said.

Kozak said Kenney can claim his comments were either truthful comments or fair comments based on the truth.

“The comment must be based on facts. This is often the case where people argue over what is a comment and what is a fact.

Kozak said the plaintiffs also had to show that they had been wronged by the statements.

“We rely on our good reputation to do the work we do,” said Tim Gray of Environmental Defense. “Having a senior politician deliberately distorting what we do, laying baseless accusations, is clearly aimed at undermining our effectiveness. “

Some members of the plaintiff groups have reportedly suffered more direct damage, according to an email from Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

“Some of our activists have had to turn their social media accounts over to a friend to report, block and delete hateful comments and commenters. Prominent climate advocates… regularly receive death threats.

Gray said the promised trial was aimed at preventing political leaders from using their office as a pulpit for intimidation.

“I think it’s really dangerous to have top political leaders doing this kind of thing against civil society. We just want it to stop.

This is an unusual case that both sides can use to gain support, Kozak said.

“I don’t think either party is interested in solving this problem with an apology or clarification.”

If a lawsuit is ultimately filed, Kozak said it would likely take years to resolve.

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