Canadian Environmental NGO sues Alberta govt to prevent foreign funding commission’s revelations

In February 2021, Alberta courts heard arguments in EcoJustice’s ongoing attempts to stop the Alberta Inquiry which was initiated by the Government of Alberta.

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The Alberta Inquiry – often called the Allan Report after Commissioner Steve Allan – is currently examining whether foreign actors funded environmental activists and their campaigns against the province’s energy sector. 

Steve Allan is a Calgary-based forensic accountant who has been leading the inquiry since July 2019. 

In 2019, Ecojustice, a Canadian environmental law charity, filed a legal action asking the courts to halt the Alberta public inquiry which was looking at the alleged foreign-funded attacks on Alberta’s energy sector. 

The stated mandate of the inquiry seeks to inquire “into the role of foreign funding, if any, in anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” and whether any foreign organization had “harmful or injurious” intent with its funding toward the Alberta oil and gas industry.

In the legal challenge to the inquiry by Ecojustice, they argued that it was created for “partisan political purposes” which intends to “harm the reputations, economic viability, and freedom of expression of certain organizations who have opposed the Government of Alberta’s position with respect to oil and gas development,”. 

Ecojustice also alleges that the inquiry is outside of provincial jurisdiction.

Ecojustice pursued an injunction in July 2020 to stop the inquiry from publishing its final report before the court ruled on the legality of the inquiry. However, in November 2020 this injunction effort was dismissed by an Alberta court.

During a court hearing in February 2021, Maureen Killoran who is representing 300 pro-industry Indigenous groups and oil and gas companies told the court that,

“My clients want to know if there’s any truth to these allegations. What are the facts? Is there interference in their industry, in their livelihood? And if so, by whom and for what purpose?”

Adding, “The answers to these questions and the findings of the inquiry may inform our provincial government.”

Killoran questioned why Ecojustice took issue with the inquiry.

“The purpose of the inquiry, as stated by cabinet, is to understand the facts and advise government. Why is it so intimidating to the applicants?” she asked. 

The court is currently weighing the case and Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Karen Horder said she expects to make a decision before Steve Allan’s May 31 deadline to submit his report to the Alberta government.

We spoke with Brian Felesky founding partner at Felesky Flynn LLP and Michael Binnion – founder of the Modern Miracle Network and CEO of Questerre Energy about the lawsuit.

Mr. Felesky, – and a specialist in corporate tax law – recently reviewed the matter. “It was expected that EcoJustice would lose their initial case – which they did. Yet they carry on with gusto,” noted Mr. Felesky.

Mr. Felesky was referring to the initial efforts by Ecojustice to stop the Alberta Inquiry through an injunction effort. In November 2020, an Alberta Justice dismissed an injunction from Ecojustice to stop the inquiry from publishing its final report before the court ruled on the legality of the inquiry. 

In this injunction effort, Ecojustice argued that the report could damage the reputation of environmental groups. 

Mr. Felesky added, “This fervent effort by EcoJustice to continue to press the Courts to stop the inquiry is very puzzling.”

Mr. Felesky says that through his thorough examination he concluded that EcoJustice’s case is without merit. He adds that the province is entirely within its rights to strike the Alberta Inquiry.

“It seems clear that the Province has the legal jurisdiction to commission an official inquiry into matters within its ‘domestic’ domain,” Mr. Felesky said. “Whether the Inquiry is politically motivated or not is irrelevant to the Province’s legal capacity to commission it.”

Mr. Felesky argues that EcoJustice must be using the court proceedings to attract local media attention which would likely be used for their fundraising purposes, or that the charity may have something to hide.

Michael Binnion agrees with Mr. Felesky’s assertions. “The Alberta Inquiry is looking at the tax filings, quarterly reports, and financial statements of these environmental activists’ corporations,” Mr. Binnion said.

“EcoJustice is worried that – based on this unassailable evidence – the Inquiry will conclude that foreign actors have been funding campaigns against Alberta accessing its abundant natural resources.”

“Is this just a publicity effort by EcoJustice or do they have concerns around the substance of the Inquiry’s forthcoming report – or both?” asked Mr. Felesky.

EcoJustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, is a recipient of foreign funding – this is verifiable through their CRA filings and own admission. However, the charity says that only $1.3 million has been donated for oil sands related work.

The final Alberta Inquiry report is set to be turned into the Government of Alberta on May 31, 2021. 

More details to come.

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