Amnesty International Canada is sounding the alarm about the violation of people’s right to freedom of expression, saying critics of Alberta's oil and gas industry face threats, intimidation and violations of their human rights under Premier Jason Kenney's government. The Council of Canadians shares these concerns.
Kenney ran on a promise that included plans to establish an “energy war room” and hold a public inquiry into the alleged foreign funding of groups who oppose or criticize energy developments in the province.
As reported by the CBC and other media outlets across Canada, Amnesty’s Secretary General Alex Neve wrote an open letter to Premier Kenney, urging the United Conservative government to end plans for both the public inquiry into the funding issue and the energy "war room."
"Amnesty International is deeply concerned that these initiatives undermine and violate a range of Alberta's human rights obligations, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law, including freedom of expression, freedom of association, the rights of Indigenous peoples and gender equality," Neve wrote.
"Amnesty International is also gravely concerned that these initiatives, and the rhetoric surrounding them, feeds into a worsening climate of hostility toward human rights defenders – particularly Indigenous, women, and environmental human rights defenders – exposing them to intimidation and threats, including threats of violence."
The Alberta government has said it plans to spend $2.5 million on a public inquiry into “foreign-funded special interests.”
Neve urged Kenney to ensure that no public funding leads to "harassment, surveillance or criminalization of human rights defenders who opposed or criticize [the government's] energy agenda and its implications for the rights of Indigenous peoples and the global climate crisis."
"Alberta should be at the forefront of denouncing such actions by other governments, not following their lead," Neve wrote.
The language that is being used to describe land and water defenders, such as “enemies,” and “liars” could lead to threats and violence. Many of these land and water defenders are Indigenous women, who face threats and intimidation.
“Report an Albertan”
The CBC said that Neve responded to an example given by Kenney in his speech in Fort McMurray on Tuesday where the premier joked about the imprisonment of Greenpeace activists in Russia.
"Their crew was arrested and thrown in a Siberian jail for six months and funnily enough, they've never been back," Kenney said to scattered nervous laughter from the crowd. "I'm not recommending that for Canada but it's instructive."
Neve said that kind of rhetoric creates the idea that it's fine for governments to jail human rights and environmental activists.
"I think that's precisely an example of the kind of thing we're very concerned about," Neve said.
Neve's letter was sent one day after the Alberta government launched an online submissions page to support the public inquiry. People say it is a "snitch line" for people to report their neighbours for allegedly "un-Albertan" activities. This led to #ReportAnAlbertan hashtag trending on Twitter this week.
The Council of Canadians shares Amnesty International’s concerns about the Alberta government’s clear efforts to criminalize dissent. It is unconscionable that a government would be involved with “exposing” people who are on the frontlines of actions to protect their land, water and air from contamination and harm.
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. People who face harm from industry have the right to speak out without facing bullying, intimidation and even violence.
Premier Kenney’s pro-oil and gas government’s efforts to interfere with these basic rights is not only harmful, it is a danger to our democracy.