Citing legal challenges, environmental group says no to Alberta public inquiry

MakeWay, the organization formerly known as Tides Canada, says concerns about impartiality and unresolved legal issues led it to decline to participate in Alberta’s public inquiry into alleged foreign funding of Canadian environmental campaigns. 

The refusal comes as public inquiry commissioner Steve Allan confirmed, via a statement on the commission’s website, that his final report will not be completed by Oct. 30. The commission’s website states this is because of delays caused by COVID-19 and the time needed to implement a fair procedure

“The commissioner expects to request an extension of time from the Minister of Energy, as he is entitled to do under the terms of reference,” the website says. 

“However, the commissioner wishes to wait until he is reasonably certain as to the time required to complete the process, before formally making a request of the minister to amend the date for submitting a final report.”

MakeWay received an invitation from Allan last week. The organization sent their answer on Friday to meet Allan’s deadline.

Joanna Kerr, CEO of MakeWay, said her organization has nothing to hide, but chose not to engage with the inquiry until legal challenges are heard by the court.

“There’s litigation underway led by Ecojustice and just really looking into (the inquiry), we could see that it was very biased, it felt politically motivated and there might be some predetermined outcomes,” Kerr said. 

“So we said, let’s wait until the rules change a little bit. Let’s wait until this injunction has been heard.”

Tzeporah Berman, an environmentalist frequently demonized by Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative MLAs, confirmed her Stand.Earth organization was also contacted by Allan. She said the group will not be responding.

“The inquiry is a waste of millions of dollars and a crude attempt to silence debate,” Berman wrote in an email to CBC News. “We believe that it is a political exercise of intimidation and public relations and a dangerous violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”

Alan Boras, a spokesman for Allan, said the inquiry engagement was set up to ensure “an open, fair and constructive process” by giving interested parties a chance to share their perspective. 

“Participation as a Participant for Commentary under the Rules of Procedure is voluntary, and MakeWay was entitled to decline the Commissioner’s invitation,” Boras wrote in an email to CBC News.

“The inquiry looks forward to constructive engagement with those who do choose to participate.”

Ecojustice filed a legal challenge against the inquiry last fall. A court date originally set for April was postponed due to COVID-19, and has not yet been rescheduled.

In July, lawyers filed an injunction seeking suspension of inquiry activities until the legal challenge is heard. Emily Chan, a spokesperson for Ecojustice, confirmed on Friday that lawyers are still awaiting a written decision on the request for an injunction.  

Chan said in a statement that Ecojustice believes the inquiry is an “unfair political stunt” aimed at silencing groups who speak out against the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry. 

“Ecojustice stands with MakeWay and other organizations that find themselves targeted by Alberta’s illegitimate public inquiry and we are committed to fighting on their behalf as our legal challenge makes its way through the courts,” she wrote.

The timing of Allan’s invitation to MakeWay offers a tiny crack into a process that has largely been shrouded in secrecy since the inquiry was launched in July 2019. 

Allan was originally supposed to submit his final report to Energy Minister Sonya Savage by July 2, but was granted a four-month extension due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed the deadline to Oct. 30.

The inquiry also received an additional $1 million in funding. The terms of reference of the inquiry have changed twice since then. 

CBC reached out on Friday to other environmental groups, which like MakeWay and Stand.Earth, have been singled out by Kenney and his supporters. 

The David Suzuki Foundation and Dogwood BC say they have not been contacted by the inquiry.

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