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Canadian Govt Tries to Crack Down on Canadians and Americans Opposed to Tar Sands Pipeline

Government dubs Vancouver group “Enemy of the State” and warns of foreign “radicals”

Andrew Frank is fast becoming a symbol for everything that is wrong with the Canadian federal government when it comes to Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline and the supposedly impartial Joint Review Panel that is deciding whether to approve the mammoth, twin pipeline that will transport tar sands petroleum to Asia.  

Photo by Flickr user sbamuellerThe proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would consist of two side-by-side pipes stretching more
than 700 miles from the tar sands of Alberta (pictured above) to the BC coastal town of Kitimat.

Less than a month ago, Frank was working as senior communications manager at Forest Ethics-Canada, based in Vancouver, BC. The group is funded by Tides Canada. According to a sworn affidavit by Frank, he says he learned that Tides Canada was being pressured by the federal government to cut funding to Forest Ethics-Canada — a group that is involved in opposing the Northern Gateway Pipeline, including signing people up to speak at ongoing public hearings. In addition, his supervisor at Forest Ethics informed Frank and other staff members in a meeting that the "Government of Canada had informed Tides President and CEO, Ross McMillan, that Forest Ethics was considered an 'Enemy of the State.'" In addition, Frank wrote that "the group was asked to 'cut loose' Forest Ethics, or the government would 'take down' all of Tides' charitable projects.'

"We [Forest Ethics and Tides Canada] had been discussing for weeks how to go public with the information," says Frank, a Canadian citizen, speaking from his Vancouver home. "But I became aware that they weren't going to go through with it and that it was up to me. ... It was a heavy responsibility. I was going to do it, but it was very uncomfortable."

In an open letter that has been read by more than 70,000 people, Frank relates the entire story, and has included his sworn affidavit with copies of internal emails regarding the issue. At this point, nobody involved has officially denied Frank's claims. "I think it has entered the public sphere and there is a strong implicit truth there now," Frank says. 

Tides did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In a prepared statement, Valerie Langer, director of BC Forest Operations for Forest Ethics, said: "While a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office denied using this language, he refused to comment when asked whether Forest Ethics was targeted by the government. There’s a good reason they wouldn’t comment: it’s true. It’s now being reported that in private meetings the Prime Minister’s Office pointed to Forest Ethics as an example of a group acting 'against the government of Canada and the people of Canada' by opposing Big Oil’s attempts to bring pipelines and oil tankers into the Great Bear Rainforest."

Forest Ethics has launched a website, We Will Not Be Silenced, to help raise funds for its campaign against the pipeline. The name of the website strikes Frank as ironic. He was fired after posting his public letter about the incident.

The federal government has made it abundantly clear that it expects Northern Gateway to be approved. The proposed pipeline would consist of two side-by-side pipes stretching more than 700 miles from the tar sands of Alberta to the BC coastal town of Kitimat. The pipeline will transport as much as 525,000 barrels of crude oil to awaiting supertankers and then on to markets across the Pacific Ocean. The eastbound pipeline would transport natural gas condensate back to the Alberta to be used in the on-site processing of tar sands bitumen. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper views the pipeline as essential to the economic growth of Canada and its goal of diversifying its energy markets away from the United States following the Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

According to Frank, the enemy-of-the-state comments shows that the government has not bargaining in good faith over the Northern Gateway. Officials already know what they want, and anyone who disagrees is flirting with treason.

A government memo obtained by Climate Action Network Canada under the Access to Information Act has deepened activists’ worry that the government views its own citizens as the enemy. The March 2011 email from a London diplomat includes a strategy report on how to shift European public opinion in favor of increased tars sands (also called “oil sands”) development. The document lists Canadian environmental NGOs and Aboriginal groups as “adversaries.”

Government officials have also targeted Americans who are opposed to the BC pipeline. In January, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver penned an open letter in the Globe and Mail warning of pipeline opponents’ "radical ideological agenda" and backing from "foreign special interest groups" looking to undermine the country

Such divisive and polarizing language has been directed at the environmental law group Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defense Fund of Canada), a group that receives funding from the so-called radicals at the $7 billion William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which also funds such underground groups as Harvard University and the Ontario College of Art and Design.

"It is no secret that we received funding from Hewlett," says Devon Page, executive director at Ecojustice, who claims the government's actions were intended to distract environmental groups from their goals of ensuring that Northern Gateway goes the way of Keystone XL — nowhere.

One might think the whole foreign-backed radicals thing would hurt environmental groups where it matters most: donations. Who wants to be associated with radicals when it's tax time? But, according to Page, that hasn't been the case.

"Donations haven't dried up, in fact there has been a slight increase and we know it is directly linked to the government's actions," he says.

Joe Oliver also accused the groups in question of clogging the Joint Review Panel by signing up people en masse to speak at hearings.

One of the few Americans who signed up to make a statement against the pipeline is far from what one would describe as radical. Fifty-nine year old Dana Roselund of Portland, Oregon found out about the issue through a Forest Ethics newsletter. When contacted over the phone, she said she thought she might be on the wrong list, as she wasn't aware that she'd be speaking, but she said she would if she had to, despite being disabled.

"If I as an American, I can't take a stand with you [Canadians] and give my support and my voice to remind us of our responsibility … that wouldn't stop me from caring," she says, adding that she's never been called a "radical" before.

During a recent trip to China, Prime Minister Harper strongly promoted the pipeline, much of whose petroleum will end up in China. And China has done its part as well, putting on the pressure by complaining about delays in the pipeline's construction. The delay in question being a fair and open review process.

In response to the Chinese complaints about the construction delay, the Yinka Dene Alliance of First Nations in British Columba released an letter to the Chinese people reiterating its opposition to the Enbridge pipeline: "We will protect the fish, the seafood, the water and the people of British Columbia, Canada, from the danger of Enbridge oil spills,” the letter said. “We have written to the Chinese government to offer our great respect to the Chinese people all over the world — but we will not allow Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to violate our rights as nations in order to build the Enbridge pipeline."

Ron Johnson
Is based in Toronto, Canada, where he is an editor for Post City magazines and contributes to The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, The National Post and the London Business Times.

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