Jul 06, 2019

Is Alberta’s inquiry into the foreign financing of environmentalists really necessary?

Here is an extract from the CSIS Act for those who have not memorised it. It is from section 2, the section which outlines what CSIS has the authority to investigate:

  • (b) foreign influenced activities within or relating to Canada that are detrimental to the interests of Canada and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person

This, in a nutshell, means that CSIS can look into those people or bodies tied to foreign states whose activities pose a threat to our national security or public safety (the preamble to this excerpt is “threats to the security of Canada means..” Note the key phrases “deceptive” and “involve a threat”.

Now, if I were to ask you, fellow Canadian citizen, what foreign-influenced activities constitute such a threat to our peaceful land, what would be at the top of your list? May I suggest…

  • foreign financing of terrorist plots
  • attempts to kibosh our elections
  • undue meddling in any one of our gazillion diasporas

I hope we can agree that these kinds of actions should merit CSIS’ attention (or that of other intelligence agencies such as the RCMP, CSE or FINTRAC – the government’s Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), our financial intelligence unit, the mandate of which is to facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and terrorist financing). All these, after all, do constitute threats to one extent or another. You cannot go a day, for example, without hearing about concerns over the possible subversion of the upcoming federal elections (I have lost track of how many interviews I have done on this issue).

What to make, then, of the announcement of the Alberta government that it plans to carry out an inquiry into the foreign funding of environmental groups in the province? Premier Jason Kenney’s government believes that foreign money is coming in to spread misleading information as part of a widespread and coordinated campaign against pipelines and Alberta’s energy sector, adding that “for more than a decade, Alberta has been the target of a well-funded, political propaganda campaign to defame our energy industry and to landlock our resources.”

There is no question that the energy sector is the lifeblood of the Alberta economy. There is equally no question that this sector is contributing to global warming and climate change that will irrevocably alter the planet, and not for the better. I do not expect the two sides on this debate to see eye to eye any time soon, but the bigger question is: what does Premier Kenney think he is doing? Does this funding pose a real and present danger to the security of Alberta? Is the Premier doing what CSIS should be doing? Should CSIS look into this? After all, Mr. Kenney did once refer to the outside meddlers as “foreign-funded radicals.”

Whatever one thinks of oil and gas development, this plan is bizarre at best and a gross over-exaggeration of what anyone can construe as threat. If and/or when ‘foreign actors’ start sending money into Canada or facilitate acts of violence against the energy sector then the government – i.e. CSIS not the Alberta government – has a duty to investigate in accordance with sections 2 b) and 2 c) (activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada) of the CSIS Act. If violence is not on the table then foreign involvement in legitimate lobbying which cannot and should not be subject to an ‘inquiry’.

I fail to see even how ‘clandestine’ this foreign funding is. From what I have understood it is fairly above board. Environmental groups around the world support each other, largely because the environment has no national borders: resource development in Alberta, the US, China or Lower Slobovia has a nasty habit of affecting conditions far from its location after all.

So while I get Mr. Kenney’s frustration at the possible interference of non-Canadian actors into his industries I cannot support the need for such an inquiry. Surely there have to be other ways for the province to make its case that oil and gas need to be developed. Furthermore, if Alberta really feels that ‘misinformation’ is being spread, the best response is to challenge and out argue that data, not holding a foolish $2.5 million waste of time and effort.

I have long said that it is probably a matter of when, not if, environmental activism will turn extreme. We need to keep an eye on it to prevent that, for that is where true threat lies.

You might want to re-think your plan Mr. Premier.