Environmental charities 'laundering' foreign funds, Kent says

Some charitable environmental groups in Canada are using foreign funds improperly to obstruct Canada's environmental assessment process, Environment Minister Peter Kent charged Tuesday.

Environment minister says money used to improperly obstruct assessment process

Some charitable environmental groups in Canada are "laundering" funds from offshore donors to obstruct Canada's environmental assessment process, Environment Minister Peter Kent says.

Kent made the comment Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview on CBC's Power & Politics when asked by host Evan Solomon to clarify a comment he made earlier on CBC Radio's The House.

In The House interview that aired Saturday, Kent said the government has been concerned charitable agencies have been used "to launder offshore foreign funds for inappropriate use against Canadian interest."

Kent stood by that characterization on Power & Politics Tuesday.

"Essentially what our government is doing through the finance committee is investigating allegations that offshore funds have improperly been funnelled through — laundered if you will, that's a fairly accurate word — through Canadian organizations that have charitable status to be used in ways that would be improper given that charitable status," Kent told Solomon Tuesday.

Pressed whether the use of the word "laundering" suggests criminal activity, Kent said: "There are allegations — and we have very strong suspicions — that some funds have come into the country improperly to obstruct, not to assist, in the environmental assessment process," Kent said.

The environmental review process is intended to determine whether a project poses adverse environment effects and whether those effects can be mitigated.

Kent declined to name the organizations under suspicion, but pointed to recent Senate finance committee hearings into the charitable status of some organizations.

"I suggest following the committee hearings — in due course some names have already been raised … and I think others will as the committee does its work," he said. 

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver sparked an angry response from environmental groups in January when he said "environmental and other radical groups" were using foreign funds to try to block major projects and undermine Canada's economy.

Tides Canada is one environmental group that has been singled out for receiving foreign donations. Ross McMillan, Tides' CEO, said Kent's comment was "part of a well-planned, orchestrated attempt to distract Canadians from the real issues" of cuts and changes to environmental laws.  

"(The comment) is desperate and preposterous. There is no evidence that any of this is taking place. He should apologize," McMillan told CBC News' Margo McDiarmid on Wednesday.  

"These are serious public policy issues and (Kent's comment) simply steels our resolve to communicate them to Canadians," McMillan said.

The March 29 budget included $8 million to enforce rules that prevent charitable organizations from spending more than 10 per cent of their funds on political action.

The budget implementation legislation also sets out the government's intent to streamline and speed up the environmental assessment process so major industrial projects receive only one review that must be completed within two years of the application.