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Ontario public broadcaster pulls controversial game showing bombing of pipeline

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TORONTO - An online game funded by Ontario taxpayers that shows the bombing of a gas pipeline and drew criticism from the premiers of Alberta and British Columbia is being reviewed.

TV Ontario, the province's public broadcaster, spent money to create the game "Pipe Trouble" to accompany a documentary about the pipeline debate in British Columbia.

A TVO blog described "Pipe Trouble" as a "companion ethical game" to a documentary that deals with local opposition to pipelines and the bombing of pipelines in Peace River, B.C.

But critics slammed the game's introductory video, which appears to show activists protesting before a pipeline blows up.

TVO said Friday night that it recognizes the public concern over "Pipe Trouble" and the game has been removed from its website.

The broadcaster says two independent individuals will be appointed to review the game "in the context of TVO's programming standards."

TVO says it hopes to release the names of the two people next week and says a report will be delivered to TVO's board of directors by the end of April and made public.

"Until this process is complete TVO has made the decision to remove Pipe Trouble from its website," the broadcaster said in a statement posted on its site.

Earlier Friday, Alberta Premier Alison Redford said in a statement that she found it "disappointing to see a taxpayer-funded game and organization depict the blowing up of pipelines."

"It's exactly opposite of Canada's interests given all of Canada benefits from a strong and diverse energy sector."

However, it's "encouraging" that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's government is looking into the matter, Redford added.

And B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Friday her province has "a long history of strong, vigorous debate on issues and it is always done in a respectful way."

"There is no place in debate for positions that advocate violence and it is disappointing this video would even suggest that approach is appropriate," Clark said in a statement.

TVO said the game — described as a "companion ethical game" to the documentary — was meant to engage people on both sides of the pipeline debate and it's not taking sides.

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals said she hadn't seen the game, but she wants to know how it fits in with TVO's educational standards.

Sandals said she also wants to know how it fits in with the rules for spending taxpayer dollars.

"TVO is appropriately free of government interference in editorial content," she said Friday.

"I think, in fact, if the government were to try to interfere in editorial content, there would quite rightly be an outcry from the Opposition."

TVO spent about $100,000 on both the game — which is promoted on its website — and the documentary set in Peace River, B.C., called "Trouble in the Peace."

The broadcaster has denied suggestions that the game draws a link to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would ship oilsands crude from Alberta across the U.S. Midwest to refineries on in Texas.

The project has come under fire, with thousands of U.S. protesters showing up in Washington, D.C., last month to urge the 1,800-kilometre line be scrapped.

Redford has been lashing out at critics of the pipeline and attacked federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair earlier this week.

During Mulcair's recent visit to the U.S. capital, the Opposition leader spoke out against Canada's environmental record, while also warning that Keystone XL would cost 40,000 Canadian jobs.

Redford called his statements "ridiculous" and "a fundamental betrayal" of Canada's economic interests.

But neither the game nor the documentary mentions Keystone XL, TVO said.

The game simply looks at the construction of a pipeline from the perspective of the pipe layer and the protester, it said. To get a perfect score, the player has to lay down as few pipes as possible while not disrupting the environment.

Ontario's Progressive Conservatives had a different take on the game, saying it depicts a pipeline being built by "ruthless executives on one side, which is then bombed by eco-terrorists on the other."

They say the game is a "national embarrassment" for Ontario and a "flagrant misuse" of taxpayers' money.

"It is urgent that Kathleen Wynne confirm this offensive project has been shut down, and that she apologize to Alberta today on behalf of all Ontarians," Conservative Monte McNaughton said in a statement.

If she doesn't, she'll leave Albertans wondering if Ontario is anti-pipeline and anti-Western Canada, he added.

Wynne said she's not taking a side in the national pipeline debate.

"I'm going to be taking part in those conversations with my colleagues across the country," she said Thursday.

"We're not drawing a line in the sand at this point on any of that."

TVO said it's not afraid to take on projects that enable people to better understand the world they live in, even though that may involve talking about controversial subjects.

TVO had provided a link to a website where players could try out the game for free. It could also be bought for $1.99, with a portion of the proceeds going to the David Suzuki Foundation — something the Tories say isn't appropriate either.

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