A B.C. environmentalist claims in a sworn affidavit the Harper government labelled him and his organization, ForestEthics, an "enemy of the government of Canada" and an "enemy of the people of Canada" and threatened to pull the charitable status of its funder, the Tides Canada Foundation, because of ForestEthics' opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project exporting tarsands oil to China.
Tides Canada is a major social-policy and environmental organization tackling poverty, climate change and social justice issues. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is a former board member.
After his affidavit went public, Andrew Frank was fired as senior communications officer for ForestEthics, one of the nearly 40 environmental organizations Tides Canada supports.
Three days after Frank's affidavit and letter went online, his colleague, ForestEthics co-founder Valerie Langer, issued this statement:
"While a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office denied using this language, he refused to comment when asked whether ForestEthics was targeted by the government. ForestEthics was targeted by the government. There's good reason they wouldn't comment. It's true."
The Prime Minister's Office and Tides Canada president Ross McMillan have refuted Frank's claims. PMO press secretary Andrew MacDougall issued an email saying the government "denies making any of the statements alleged in the reports."
McMillan says Frank was not present at the Nov. 15 meeting where the alleged accusations were made and his descriptions of the meeting were "inaccurate."
Here's a portion of Frank's Jan. 22 affidavit and "Open Letter to the Citizens of Canada" to "expose the undemocratic and potentially illegal pressure the Harper government has apparently applied to silence critics of the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil tanker and pipeline plan.
"As I have detailed in a sworn affidavit, no less than three senior managers with Tides Canada and ForestEthics... have informed me that the PMO considers Forest Ethics an 'enemy of the government of Canada' and an 'enemy of the people of Canada.'
"This language was apparently part of a threat by the Prime Minister's Office to challenge the charitable status of Tides Canada if it did not agree to stop funding ForestEthics... This is especially concerning because ForestEthics is a legally registered intervenor in the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel process. By attempting to silence a registered participant in the review, I fear the Harper government may have permanently damaged the integrity of this process...
"The language of anti-terrorism, when applied to Canadian citizens who legitimately question the wisdom of an unsustainable oil tanker (and) pipeline plan, is an affront to the rights of all Canadians. It is the language of bullying. It is language that is violent and above the law... The casual use of such loaded language at the top of our government is immoral, unethical and probably illegal."
Frank's letter and affidavit had 60,000 hits by Jan. 29.
Governments have used intimidation tactics against environmental and social activist organizations before.
The Globe and Mail reports that in 1997, then-B.C. premier Glen Clark called Greenpeace members "enemies of British Columbia" and "eco-terrorists."
It also quotes Dogwood Initiative director Will Horter warning that Canadian and American governments have accused environmental groups of treason five times and such overheated rhetoric from government is frequently followed by real violence. "Three of those five times, people got beat up," Horter said.
The environmental movement now has a new worry. The Harper government has announced a major overhaul of its charitable-status rules. Today, charities are only allowed to spend 10 per cent of their budgets on non-partisan political activities or advocacy. Now, the social justice and environmental community fears even that could be eliminated. Frank believes this fear is why he was fired.
Sierra Club of Canada executive director John Bennett told Vancouver Observer Magazine Jan. 26 tensions between environmental groups and governments are nothing new but the Harper Conservatives have raised them to a whole new level.
He calls the current situation "McCarthyesque... a scary time for Canadian democracy. These are all tactics that have been developed in the U.S. by the Republican party as a way of creating politics of division because they've discovered that if you divide people then you can win office."
Bennett says there's now a new wrinkle, creating "pretend" grassroots organizations like Ethical Oil. "They test the lines with these surrogate organizations and then the politicians start to repeat them."
The Harper government has announced plans to "streamline" environmental reviews of major resource projects and repeatedly claims opposition to them is the work of "foreign-backed radicals."
Frances Russell is a Winnipeg
author and political commentator.