Canadian environmental groups concerned about initiatives restricting defenders’ work


Alberta Premier Jason Kenney launched a “public inquiry” on 4 July 2019 to uncover alleged foreign funding of environmental groups that have spread "misleading or false information about the Alberta oil and gas industry". Part of the inquiry calls for reviewing those groups’ charitable status.

To support the public inquiry, on 9 September 2019, Alberta launched a website to allow people to submit information relevant to the investigation. This drew immediate criticism, with opponents arguing it amounts to a “snitch line” for people to report their neighbours. #ReportAnAlbanian trended on Twitter after the announcement. On 10 September 2019, Kenney gave a speech citing a case of Greenpeace activists being arrested for six months in Russia, calling the episode “instructive”.

The inquiry initiative drew criticism from human rights defenders and environmental groups. In an open letter to Kenney, Amnesty International stated that this plan undermines and violates Alberta’s human rights obligations. Amnesty International Canada’s Secretary General states:

"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 people, women, and environmental human rights defenders – exposing them to intimidation and threats, including threats of violence."

Peaceful Assembly

On 28 August 2019, about 200 people gathered outside the Alberta legislature to protest a decision to delay implementation of a new school curriculum, which will now undergo a review. The new curriculum was supposed to take effect in September 2019. Many protesters, including teachers and students, were critical of the delay, stating that the review panel put together by the United Conservative Party was not properly assembled – lacking representation of teachers, indigenous and LGBTI groups. "Teachers have an important role in helping out with the curriculum and we've just been shut out of it," a middle school science teacher said. The curriculum was released last October and includes content teaching students about financial literacy and age-appropriate concepts of sexual consent.

On 4 September 2019, First Nations activists demonstrated with a traditional round dance in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The dance was performed by a small group of people holding hands and chanting, blocking traffic for about an hour to protest policies targeting Manitoba’s First Nations. “The current government has been exercising unlawful jurisdiction in First Nation territory on a variety of issues, from tobacco and cannabis, to cuts in health care, child and family services, and land procurement,” the Southern Chiefs Organization, a group who helped organize the protest, said in a statement. Similar dances were recently held in the U.S./Canada border and in Ontario.

On 2 September 2019, dozens of activists demonstrated at a turkey farm in Alberta to protest animal treatment they described as unsafe and cruel. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was called to keep the peace, but news outlets report that the farm’s owner permitted some protestors and police officers to tour the barn. “We allowed the protesters to protest as their legal right, even though they did occupy a turkey barn, which is a trespass and break-and-enter,” one of the officers said. Later reports stated that an investigation was ongoing, but the police were still deciding if any charges would be filed.

On 11 September 2019, about 300 people gathered outside a school in Edmonton, Alberta province, to protest a proposed affordable housing development that they say would endanger their children attending a nearby school. According to news reports, residents of the neighbourhood voiced concern that the project will bring increased crime, traffic problems and parking shortages. The city councillor responded that public hearings about the project are still taking place and expressed alarm about the number of comments linking potential low-income tenants to safety issues in the community.


Climate change activists concerned about Canadian election rule

On 18 August 2019, news outlets reported that the federal agency overseeing Canada’s elections had told environmental charities that describing the climate crisis as "real" in their political advertising could be considered partisan activity, and therefore against the rules of the recently amended Canada Elections Act. According to environmental groups who were attending the meeting, the warning was given because one candidate has expressed doubt about the influence of human activity on climate change, and “any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan.”

On 20 August 2019, the country’s top election official said that environmental groups are free to discuss the issue during elections, but that paid advertising on an issue identified with a party during the election would require registration as per Canada’s laws. Environmental activists pushed back, saying the registration process is onerous.

Canada’s Climate Action Network published a letter to Elections Canada stating:

“Your office appears to believe that any public transmission on climate change will take a position on an issue with which Mr. Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada are “associated” simply because of that party and its leader’s assertion that climate change is not caused by human activity. We suggest that this interpretation of the definition of election advertising is overly broad, and inappropriately silences the freedom of speech of Canadians.”

Legal challenges to “Sticker Act” in Ontario

On 3 September 2019, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a lawsuit challenging an Ontario law that requires provincial gas stations to display stickers critical of federal carbon pricing. Informally called the “Sticker Act”, the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act makes it mandatory for station owners to post stickers on gas pumps displaying a message suggesting the federal government's carbon levy will drive up the cost of fuel. According to opponents of the legislation, owners who don’t post the stickers could face fines of up to $10,000 per day.

CCLA’s claim argues that the law violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ protection of freedom of expression. The organisation considers that forcing retailers to post a particular, government-mandated message about a political issue, particularly just prior to a federal election, would be unreasonable and unjustifiable compelled speech. Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association stated:

“The provincial government can engage in a war of words with the federal government over the carbon tax, but it cannot use the threat of fines to conscript private businesses to take up its cause.”

New legislation on U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Canada

On 15 August 2019, Canada announced that it had expanded protections for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who work in Canadian territory. According to legal analysts, the new rules of the Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine and Air Transport Preclearance would give “enhanced powers to U.S. border agents on Canadian soil and could immunize them from Canadian law if they violate the legal rights of Canadians.” Critics fear that this change could open the door to U.S. agents not being held responsible for violating the law, including conducting warrantless searches of electronic devices, or discriminating based on race or religion.