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Environmental groups serve Alberta premier, government with defamation lawsuit

Edmonton

Five environmental organizations are following through on a threat to sue Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the provincial government for defamation.

A coalition of environmental groups say Kenney falsely accused them of spreading misinformation about Alberta's energy industry in public statements, social media posts and government websites. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Five environmental organizations have followed through on a threat to sue Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the provincial government for defamation.

In documents filed Wednesday in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench, the groups allege Kenney deliberately twisted the findings of a public inquiry into whether the groups were using foreign funding to try and landlock Alberta oil by spreading misinformation about its environmental impacts.

"There's a line that [Kenney] crossed," Paul Champ, lawyer for the environmentalists, said in an interview. "If you don't hold him accountable on something like this, there's really no limits for him."

In October, Calgary forensic accountant Steve Allan filed the results of his inquiry.

He wrote that he found no organized campaign of misinformation. Nothing illegal happened and the groups were merely exercising their free speech rights.

He found that while the groups did accept money from the U.S. to oppose oilsands development, that money amounted to about $3.5 million a year — roughly the cost of Allan's inquiry.

But the groups allege that even after Allan's report was released, Kenney made public statements and social media posts that kept falsely accusing them, statements repeated on government websites.

The lawsuit contains allegations that have not been proven in court and a statement of defence has not yet been filed.

The government has hired outside lawyers to defend itself and the premier.

"This matter is before the courts and would be inappropriate to comment on," said Kenney spokesperson Justin Brattinga. "The premier and Alberta's government will vigorously defend themselves in court, as the facts are on our side."

Tim Gray of Environmental Defence, one of the plaintiffs, said he's not aware of a similar lawsuit being launched before by an advocacy group.

"I'm used to the cut and thrust of policy debate and that's fine," he said. "But to say a public inquiry that was paid for with public money concluded something that is exactly opposite to what it did is just pushing it a bit too far."

Gray alleges the remarks were a deliberate attempt to damage the reputation of environmental groups.

"It does undermine our credibility. It gives people who would like to marginalize the value of our information someone important to point to who says, 'That's the truth."'

The five groups in the lawsuit are Environmental Defence, West Coast Environmental Law, Stand.Earth, Dogwood and the Wilderness Committee.

Their statement of claim alleges Kenney's remarks were "malicious, high-handed, arrogant, and reckless."

It says the plaintiffs wrote Kenney on Nov. 22 to express their concerns, asking for a correction and an apology.

"To date, the defendants have not communicated or written any corrections or apology."

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