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Ecojustice alleges unfairness in 'secret' public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaign

​​​​​​​Ecojustice, an environmental law charity, is accusing the inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns of unfairness for not following what it says are the basic rules of disclosure for a public inquiry. 

Inquiry commissioner Steve Allan refuses to disclose submissions

Steve Allan, commissioner of the $2.5-million Public Inquiry Into Funding of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, submitted an interim report to Energy Minister Sonya Savage in January. (CBC)

Ecojustice, an environmental law charity, is accusing the inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns of unfairness for not following what it says are the basic rules of disclosure for a public inquiry. 

"An inquiry held in secret cannot be called a 'public' inquiry," said Barry Robinson, a lawyer with Ecojustice in Calgary. "Legitimate public inquiries apprise, inform and educate the government and the public in an open and transparent manner.

"The current process in Alberta does not meet these standards."

In a letter sent to inquiry commissioner Steve Allan last week, Robinson referenced a Feb. 17 email written by Allan from his private email account.

In it, Allan said he had met "with over 100 individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests from July through to early January."

Robinson told Allan the email, even though it is from his private account, should be part of the inquiry record. He asked Allan to provide a list of the 100 individuals and a summary of the meetings.

The Ecojustice letter cites a Manitoba case in which its Court of Appeal ruled "procedural fairness and natural justice are met by providing detailed summaries of interviews held in the preliminary stage of an inquiry." 

'No public record of evidence'

Ecojustice also told Allan it requires all documents and evidence provided by researcher and blogger Vivian Krause. Robinson, citing Section 12 of the provincial Public Inquiries Act, also requested an opportunity to cross-examine Krause. 

Section 12 states that any witness who believes their interests may be adversely affected "shall be given an opportunity during the inquiry to give evidence on the matter, and at the discretion of a commissioner or commissioners, to call and examine or cross-examine witnesses personally or by that person's counsel in respect of the matter." 

The government of Premier Jason Kenney has cited Krause's research to rationalize the inquiry and also justify its controversial $30-million-a-year war room, which was established to counter negative information about the energy industry.

Krause has estimated various American funders have contributed at least $40 million in recent years to hundreds of Canadian environmental and Indigenous groups. The goal of this funding, according to Krause and the Kenney government, is to finance campaigns to land lock Alberta crude.

"Ms. Krause has published numerous documents referring to Ecojustice's sources of funding and Ecojustice's actions that we believe are incomplete, contain mischaracterizations and are adverse to Ecojustice's interests," the letter states, adding that the charity believes the evidence provided by Krause to the inquiry may contain the same "inaccuracies and be adverse to Ecojustice's interests.

"Unfortunately, we are unable to confirm this as there is no public record of evidence put before the inquiry," the letter states.

Inquiry refuses to provide basic information

CBC News had earlier requested a list of all submissions to the inquiry but Allan, through spokesperson Alan Boras, declined to provide the information.

He provided no reason for withholding the information. Instead, Boras, a former EnCana Corp. spokesperson, simply said Allan is following the inquiry's terms of reference. 

Boras also denied a CBC News request for the interim report, delivered by Allan to the energy minister at the end of January. He also, again without explanation, declined to provide the name of the inquiry's executive director, who was hired by Allan and is being paid $108,000 a year.

"That just seems very unusual," Robinson said. "What reason would they have to not tell you or the public who the executive director assisting Mr. Allan is?"

Although Kenney and his government have specifically targeted Ecojustice as being hostile to the oil and gas industry, Robinson said Allan has not sought information from the charity. 

As CBC News previously reported, the inquiry also has not contacted the Pembina Institute, Tides Canada, and the David Suzuki Foundation, three other environmental groups considered by the government to be hostile to the energy industry.

CBC News also confirmed with two prominent British Columbia environmental charities, Dogwood and Stand.Earth, have not been contacted by the inquiry.

Greenpeace Canada has also confirmed it has not been contacted by the inquiry.

Tzeporah Berman of Stand.Earth said she was surprised Allan had not contacted her organization, since "from the beginning Jason Kenney has been dead set on vilifying my work."

In November, Ecojustice filed a legal challenge of the inquiry, saying it was established for an "improper purpose" outside the Public Inquiries Act. 

It has asked Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench to halt the $2.5-million Inquiry Into Funding of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, claiming it was created for "partisan political purposes" and has been tainted from the outset by unfairness.

The court is scheduled to hear the case for two days beginning April 21.

The inquiry's ongoing lack of transparency is further evidence that it is more about politics than truth, Robinson said.

"As we have said from the beginning, the public inquiry is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to silence Canadians concerned about climate change." 

Conflict-of-interest allegations

The inquiry has been dogged by scandal since its inception. In November, CBC News revealed Allan personally awarded a $905,000 sole-source contract to the Dentons law firm in Calgary, where his son Toby is a partner.

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, who appointed Allan to the $290.000 commissioner's position, was also a partner at Dentons before his election but he said he severed his relationship shortly after his election.

Allan gave another sole-source $905,000 contract to the Calgary accounting firm Deloittes, where his former business partner Bob Taylor is a senior executive. Taylor, Allan, and another Denton's partner, Quincy Smith, hosted a fundraiser for Schweitzer.

There have been two complaints to Alberta's ethics commissioner from the opposition NDP and from Ottawa-based Democracy Watch.

Ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler denied the NDP request for a conflict of interest investigation. She said Allan had been appointed in such a way that she had no jurisdiction.

Trussler has yet to respond to a complaint from Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.   

If you have information about this story, or information for another story, contain us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca

@charlesrusnell

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