Edmonton

Alberta premier hires lawyers over lawsuit threat from environmental groups

The Alberta government has hired a private law firm to defend Premier Jason Kenney after environmental groups threatened him with a defamation lawsuit.

8 eco groups accuse Jason Kenney of deliberately twisting findings of Allan inquiry

A coalition of environmental groups say Kenney falsely accused them of spreading misinformation about Alberta's energy industry in public statements, social media posts and government websites. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The Alberta government has hired a private law firm to defend Premier Jason Kenney after environmental groups threatened him with a defamation lawsuit.

Paul Champ, lawyer for the environmentalists, says he's been notified that the province has retained counsel.

"[Kenney's] counsel advises that they will review the matter and respond 'substantively' in the near future," Champ said in an email. "We fully expect Premier Kenney will get solid advice on this matter."

The lawsuit threat was made in a letter to Kenney last month by eight groups who allege the premier deliberately twisted the findings of a public inquiry into their activities and funding sources.

That inquiry, headed by Calgary forensic accountant Steve Allan, looked into whether environmental groups were conspiring to landlock Alberta oil by spreading misinformation about its environmental impacts.

The inquiry found the groups had done nothing wrong and were within their freedom of speech rights. 

But the groups say that even after Allan's report was released, Kenney continued to falsely accuse them of spreading misinformation about Alberta's energy industry in public statements, social media posts and government websites.

The government's website on the inquiry says: "The report confirms the existence of well-funded, decade-long campaigns based on misinformation that have impacted the lives and livelihoods of Albertans."

But in his final report, Allan said, "I have not made any finding as to whether an organization has disseminated false or misleading information."

Eco groups seek apology

The environmental groups allege the government's statements about the inquiry's conclusions were intended to damage their reputations and credibility in the eyes of the public.

They are asking for an apology, the posts to be taken down and the websites rewritten.

A spokesperson for Kenney's office has previously said they would "vigorously respond in court if and when necessary."

At the legislature on Thursday, Environment Minister Jason Nixon said he didn't know if he agreed that the government had mischaracterized the inquiry's findings.

"I do think that environmental groups have often spread misinformation about our province," Nixon said.

"You see it from everything from tailings to the oilsands, uh, Extinction Rebellion, different types of organizations that spread misinformation about our province, our environmental record, our largest industry and most importantly the men and women who work in it."

Extinction Rebellion, which originated in the United Kingdom, describes itself as a non-partisan movement that uses civil disobedience "to persuade governments to act justly on the climate and ecological emergency."

The environmental groups' letter gave Kenney until Nov. 30 to back down before filing a statement of claim against him.

Champ said the government's move to retain lawyers from outside government will delay that filing as Kenney's lawyers review the facts and advise their client.

"Assuming the premier follows this advice, we expect to see those posts taken down with an apology," wrote Champ.

The Allan inquiry cost taxpayers $3.5 million. 

With files from Janet French

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