An Edmonton non-profit is threatening to take the province to court over its public inquiry into foreign funding of organizations that the province believes are “anti-Alberta.”
Progress Alberta sent a letter to Commissioner Steve Allan last week stating it believes the inquiry is unconstitutional and violates freedom of expression and association. It said it would sue the province unless the inquiry is shut down.
The non-profit is the latest organization to express concern over the inquiry. Ecojustice filed a lawsuit seeking to quash it, stating the inquiry is politically motivated and prejudges its conclusions. Amnesty International said it threatens freedom of expression and association while the Muttart Foundation expressed worries the inquiry creates a climate of fear for those disagreeing with the government.
The inquiry was created to look at foreign-funded interest groups with campaigns against Alberta oil.
Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, said the non-profit has a clear message for Premier Jason Kenney.
“Shut down this anti-democratic and unconstitutional public inquiry or we will do it for you,” he said.
“This inquiry is Jason Kenney using the power of his political office to go after his political enemies. It’s gross. It’s unseemly.”
Amir Attaran, a lawyer for Progress Alberta as well as a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the organization has several concerns with the inquiry.
“When a government targets somebody because you are against them, they’re behaving not in the way of a democratic government. They’re behaving as you might expect from Saudi Arabia or Russia or governments of that low calibre,” he said.
Attaran said Progress Alberta’s letter differs from Ecojustice, Amnesty International and the Muttart Foundation because its arguments rely heavily on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We are making that the focus for Progress Alberta because for Albertans to really live a full and complete life, they have to be in a society where all points of view are welcome, even if they are supposedly anti-Alberta points of view,” he said.
“What the province is doing is trying to shrink the life of every Albertan to try and protect them from ideas it sees as dangerous. That is almost a Stalinist version of the world. It’s not something Jason Kenney ought to be doing.”
Kinney said the inquiry is “uniquely able” to go after Progress Alberta and said the non-profit was singled out several times by Kenney during the provincial election campaign.
“This is evidence of a government that needs to create enemies right? They need to create enemies because they need to distract people from the brutal austerity that’s… already harming Albertans,” Kinney said.
The inquiry launched last summer and, according to its website, has been doing research, conducting interviews and reviewing submissions.
Kinney said Progress Alberta will wait for the government to respond to its letter and review an interim report scheduled to be filed at the end of January before deciding the next steps.
Jonah Mozeson, spokesperson for Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, sent an emailed statement responding to Progress Alberta’s letter.
“It is ridiculous to suggest that transparency hinders freedom of expression and/or association,” the statement reads.
Mozeson also said the commissioner is independent from the minister and sent links to U.S. IRS filings that show Tides Foundation donated more than $60,000 in 2016 and 2017 to Progress Alberta.
In a statement, Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan said he had received the letter from Progress Alberta.
“Given that there are court proceedings underway in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench with respect to the inquiry’s terms of reference, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on matters raised by Progress Alberta regarding these terms of reference,” Allan said.
Allan said there will be further clarity about the inquiry’s process after the interim report is delivered.
The Ecojustice lawsuit alleges that inquiry commissioner Steve Allan was a donor to the UCP leadership campaign of Doug Schweitzer, now Alberta’s justice minister, who appointed him to the job.
The inquiry has also been criticized for awarding a million-dollar contract to a Calgary law firm in which Allan’s son is a partner.
-with files from The Canadian Press