Jason Kenney’s Alberta government has launched its long-awaited inquiry into foreign funding of environmental groups, but an international human rights organization worries it could put Indigenous, female and environmental human rights defenders at risk.
The Alberta government launched a website Monday where Albertans are encouraged to report any information they have on “anti-Alberta energy campaigns that are supported by foreign organizations.” The site is part of the $2.5-million public inquiry into anti-energy campaigns that launched in June.
According to the inquiry’s terms of reference, this includes any details regarding foreign funding of environmental groups in Alberta. The inquiry targets what Kenney’s government calls a “well-funded misinformation campaign targeting Alberta’s oil industry.”
“The commissioner’s website marks an important milestone in the first phase of the independent inquiry. I’ve heard from many Albertans and Canadians who are anxious to participate in the process, and this website provides them an opportunity to do so,” Alberta energy minister Sonya Savage said in a statement.
The inquiry is led by forensic accountant Steve Allan, who was announced as the inquiry’s commissioner in June.
“At this stage in the process, I’m focused on information-gathering and fact-finding, and that’s why it is critical that I hear from anyone who has valuable information to share. I encourage anyone with relevant information to visit the website for further details,” Allan said in a statement.
Allan said he is also planning to travel outside of Alberta to Toronto, Vancouver, Haida Gwaii, B.C. and Washington, D.C. The inquiry is also to make use of American investigations into the activity of Russian social media bots in the United States.
Human rights non-profit Amnesty International says it’s “deeply concerned” about the Alberta government’s plans to fight back against oil and gas industry critics.
In an open letter to Kenney, Alex Neve, secretary general of the human rights group’s Canadian branch urged Kenney to stop the inquiry, warning that it violates Alberta’s human rights obligations.
“Amnesty International is also gravely concerned that these initiatives, and the rhetoric surrounding them, feeds into a worsening climate of hostility towards human rights defenders — particularly Indigenous, women and environmental human rights defenders — exposing them to intimidation and threats, including threats of violence,” the letter to Kenney states.
Neve specifically calls out the Kenney government for using public money to pursue the inquiry.
“[You must] ensure that public funds will not be used in any way that leads directly or indirectly to the harassment, surveillance or criminalization of human rights defenders who oppose or criticize your government’s energy agenda and its implications for the rights of Indigenous peoples and the global climate crisis,” he wrote.
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Kenney responded to the letter during a speech at an oilsands conference in Fort McMurray.
“The world must be in a pretty good place now with respect to human rights if they’re focussing their attention on efforts by the government of Alberta to advocate for the environmentally responsible development of resources,” he said.
The inquiry has also been criticized by the public. On Monday, the #ReportAnAlbertan became popular among Twitter users who mockingly called out the online reporting system as a way of “snitching” on environmental activists.
Many users “confessed” their personal eco-conscious moves and questioned if it would make them subject to the inquiry.
While others called the inquiry a “McCarthy-level” witch hunt, referring to the U.S. Senate inquiry into communism during the cold war.
Initial results of the inquiry are expected in January 2020, with a full report set for July. The investigation will not be subject to Freedom of Information requests.