Is Canada Planning a Politically Motivated Government Crackdown on Environmental Groups?

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January 11, 2012; Source: cnews | Rumors have been circulating recently that the Canadian government is poising itself for a crackdown on charities suspected of being “fronts for political activity,” and by this he appears to be referring to environmental groups. In the spotlight is Forest Ethics, which is advocating against the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal to connect Alberta’s oilsands with a marine terminal in Kitimat, B.C., and is behind the effort to get the fruit company Chiquita to shun fuel derived from the oilsands in its shipping.

In the midst of this, the executive director of an environmental justice organization is calling for greater political freedom for nonprofits.“If we look to other parts of the world that have more liberal views on the roles that charities play in [a] free and democratic society, they have a greater voice,” said Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice Canada. “The current rules that we have should frankly be broadened.”

In another article in the The Globe and Mail today, Forest Ethics expressed concern that they might have their charitable status revoked after Prime Minister Stephen Harper complained that groups flush with “foreign money” are undermining the pipeline review. The foreign money in question appears to be flowing from U.S. donors. The Conservative-dominated Commons finance committee is indeed scheduled to review the charitable sector, and some activists say that “government MPs have told business groups that the committee will look at the environmental sector’s transparency, its advocacy role and the flow of funds from outside the country.”

John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, commented, “I’m quite convinced that we’re the next on the hit list of this government that doesn’t know how to find compromises but only bully people . . . we could have some significant challenges.”—Ruth McCambridge