Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

PMO threatened environmental charity, affidavit alleges

A former employee of an environmental group critical of a proposed oilsands pipeline says the Prime Minister's Office threatened a funding agency if it didn't pull its support for the group.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper denies the allegations.

In a sworn affidavit released Tuesday to The Canadian Press, Andrew Frank says he was told by his supervisor at ForestEthics that a PMO official had referred to their organization as an "enemy of the state."

The affidavit describes how staff were told their jobs were at risk after the official told Tides Canada, which supports the work of ForestEthics, that the government would "take down" all of the agency's projects unless it cut ForestEthics loose.

Tides gets most of its money from private foundations and funds a wide array of social and environmental charities in Canada — from Big Brothers and Big Sisters to the World Wildlife Fund. It also partners with major corporations and governments, including federal government agencies.

Frank was fired from his job as communications adviser at ForestEthics on Monday over his plans to go public.

His affidavit details a series of conversations allegedly held in early January between ForestEthics and Tides staff.

He says ForestEthics employees were summoned to a meeting on Jan. 5 in which the group's supervisor, Pierre Iachetti, told them the CEO of Tides, Ross McMillan, had been given a period of time in which to stop contributions to ForestEthics or the government would "take down" all of Tides's charitable projects.

ForestEthics has been behind efforts to encourage U.S. companies to avoid using oilsands-derived fuel in their transportation fleets. A total of 14 companies and one city have made commitments of varying strength.

ForestEthics has also worked to get people to sign up to address a National Energy Board review currently underway into Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline between Alberta and Kitimat, B.C. More than 4,000 people have asked to appear.

Frank says Iachetti was attempting to find alternate funding sources to try to survive.

"The assumption was that Mr. McMillan had already decided to dissolve ForestEthics's public work in criticizing the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway oil tanker and pipeline plan in order to save the rest of Tides's projects."

The next day, Frank says, he heard the same story directly from Merran Smith, energy initiative director for Tides.

"She said that...someone at the PMO had described ForestEthics as 'an enemy of the government of Canada' and 'an enemy of the people of Canada' and had then made the threat that if ForestEthics was not dissolved or removed, Tides would meet an undesirable fate."

Other ForestEthics management corroborated the story over the next few days, says Frank.

He says he met directly with McMillan on Friday to inform him of his plans to go public with the information. He says McMillan did not deny the story, but compared Frank's plans to "setting off a bomb in your own house."

"He and (vice-president Sarah) Goodman suggested there were better ways of fighting back."

Andrew MacDougall, spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said none of the statements attributed to the government is accurate.

"The Prime Minister's Office denies making any of the allegations or saying any of the things that are outlined in that statement," he said.

He would not comment when asked if either Tides Canada or ForestEthics had been targeted by the government.

Nobody from Tides Canada was available for comment Tuesday. ForestEthics had a scheduled news conference for later in the day.

The Commons finance committee is to begin a study later this month on the ways individuals and corporations donate and how to boost that generosity through tax incentives. The last federal budget recommended such a review.

There has been speculation about a Conservative crackdown on environmental and other foundations with charitable status that also do advocacy work.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has accused "environmental and other radical groups'' of trying to use money from "foreign special-interest groups'' to hijack the Northern Gateway hearings.

The Harper government has cut funding for critics before. In December 2010, the Canadian International Development Agency turned down a funding application by the relief organization Kairos.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney initially told an Israeli audience the group had been cut off due to its anti-Israel stance — an assertion Kairos said was patently untrue. International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda contradicted Kenney, saying the group simply no longer met the criteria for CIDA's foreign aid priorities.

But an internal memo later surfaced, signed by Oda and CIDA's top two officials, indicating that the agency had actually recommended Kairos's application be approved.

In an interview, Frank said he is motivated by concern over his civil rights.

"I think Canadians need to know that behind the scenes, the Prime Minister's Office has apparently attempted to silence a legitimate voice and a critic of the proposed Enbridge oil tanker and pipeline project," he said.

"At the very highest levels of this government, Canadians who have a legitimate concern about this oilsands pipeline are being called enemies of the government of Canada and enemies of the people of Canada. And that's the language of anti-terrorism.

"When a government calls its own citizens enemies, you've lost your moral authority to govern."

For more from the Canadian Press scroll down The Tyee's main page or click here.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus