In his book, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, Peter Maass showed how oil isn't just environmentally dirty, it is an ethical and moral poison as well. Canadians are getting a taste of that poison right now, as the Prime Minister and his government unleash an unprecedented attack on those who oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed to carry bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Pacific Coast.
First we had the Minister of Natural Resources attacking those against the pipeline as "radical groups" who:
use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources.
Now it appears that they are using Canadian tax rules as a hakapik to club charitable organizations into silence and submission. Yesterday Andrew Frank, until recently the Communications Director for ForestEthics, released an open letter that made a series of claims:
Today, I am taking the extraordinary step of risking my career, my reputation and my personal friendships, to act as a whistleblower and expose the undemocratic and potentially illegal pressure the Harper government has apparently applied to silence critics of the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil tanker/pipeline plan.
As I have detailed in a sworn affidavit, no less than three senior managers with TidesCanada and ForestEthics (a charitable project of Tides Canada), have informed me, as theSenior Communications Manager for ForestEthics, that Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan,was informed by the Prime Minister’s Office, that ForestEthics is considered an “Enemy of the Government of Canada,” and an “Enemy of the people of Canada.”
This language was apparently part of a threat by the Prime Minister’s Office to challenge the charitable status of Tides Canada if it did not agree to stop funding ForestEthics, specifically its work opposing oilsands expansion and construction of oilsands tanker/pipeline routes in Canada.
He was not planning on speaking out, but was apparently frustrated that nobody in the organizations involved was.
After waiting more than two weeks for Tides Canada to go public with this story, it has become clear to me that the organization is too afraid of reprisals from the government to act. Tides is responsible for the employment of hundreds of Canadians and dozens of crucial environmental projects like the Great Bear Rainforest, and has been understandably paralyzed in challenging the Prime Minister’s Office on this matter. I on the other hand, am speaking out as a private citizen because I feel that the rights and civil liberties of my fellowCanadian citizens, including freedom of expression and freedom of speech, are at risk.
Read the entire open letter here.
Andrew Frank was immediately fired from ForestEthics. In a press conference call, co-founder Ziporah Berman said, "He was let go because he broke confidentiality and trust; any person who acts unilaterally as an individual, then it is unprofessional and a breach of trust." She also describes the atmosphere among supporters and donors, the almost McCarthyite scare that is going around:
Lets be clear, the tone of the Minister's letter really do in a lot of ways harken back to another era, and people are extremely surprised and concerned. Canadians value democracy and free speech, and the government has overplayed its hand. Whatever you think about the pipeline, many agree that his government should be governing and not serving the oil industry.... and a lot of donors are getting scared that giving will result in reprisals, and this has made it difficult to plan.
Valerie Langer, Director of BC Forest Campaigns, said in a press release:
We share these concerns with Andrew Frank, who is clearly concerned about the government trying to silence Canadians. Andrew worked with us for many years and was a valued part of this organization. He is no longer a member of ForestEthics’ staff because he violated the confidence of the organization, and we are unable to carry out our work without a solid foundation of trust between colleagues.
But the bigger picture remains: It is a dark and chilling day for Canadians when our government tries to silence and intimidate non profit organizations like ForestEthics, and the thousands of citizens and civil groups who, like us, are concerned about the direction this country is taking and are speaking out.
In Canada, donations to approved charitable organizations are tax deductible. Charitable status is hard to get, and the rules regarding what charities can actually do are controversial and open to interpretation. The Canada Revenue Ministry regulations state that Charities may not participate in political activities, which include where the charity
Explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained (if the retention of the law, policy or decision is being reconsidered by a government), opposed, or changed.
However it also makes very clear that a small proportion of political activity is inherent in almost every charity, so they set limits, usually 10% of the charity's assets.
After the Minister of Natural Resources specifically attacked Tides Canada and "foreign jet-setters", Tides responded:
Merran Smith, director of Tides Canada’s Energy Initiative, says all Canadians deserve a voice in these conversations. “This contrived funding ‘debate’ is a red herring,” says Smith. “These are critical issues with long-term implications for Canada. We live in a democracy where all voices should be heard. It is totally appropriate for Tides Canada to support Canadian engagement in our public processes.”
It is not the least bit surprising to me that Stephen Harper would use the CRA and every tool at his disposal to stifle dissent; he is turning Canada into a Petro-state and turning himself into Hugo Chávez.
Alan Broadbent, a board member of Tides, summarized it nicely in the Globe and Mail:
Canada would be served better if the government let science speak, let the affected communities be heard, and let the full light of day shine. Demonizing the charitable and philanthropic sector is not in the national interest.