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Environmentalists threaten Alberta Premier Kenney with lawsuit over inquiry remarks

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A coalition of at least eight environmental groups is threatening to sue Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for defamation if he doesn’t retract and apologize for statements saying a public inquiry found they spread misinformation about the province’s oil and gas industry.

The groups, in a letter obtained by The Canadian Press, have given the premier a week before they say they would file a statement of claim against him.

“If Premier Kenney doesn’t follow the good advice of his lawyers, he will be served with a lawsuit some time by the end of next week,” said Paul Champ, a lawyer for the environmentalists.

The letter, delivered to Kenney’s office Monday, is signed by the Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence Canada, Greenpeace Canada, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, Sierra Club of British Columbia Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law and Research Foundation and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

They point to Kenney’s reaction to the inquiry, headed by Steve Allan, which looked into whether environmental groups were conspiring to landlock Alberta oil by spreading misinformation about its environmental impacts.

Allan’s report, delivered in October, found that “no individual or organization … has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech.”

But the groups accuse Kenney of deliberately twisting Allan’s findings in public statements, social media posts and government websites. Specific documents are referenced in the letter.

“These statements are defamatory as they assert that our clients have spread ‘misinformation,'” the letter says. “Your statements were designed to undermine the groups’ reputations and credibility in the eyes of the public by falsely asserting that the Alberta Inquiry found that the groups were spreading misinformation.”

The letter gives Kenney until Nov. 30 to retract and remove the statements as well as apologize. If he doesn’t, Champ said, a statement of claim against him is almost complete and will be filed.

Kenney’s spokesman Harrison Fleming responded in an email.

“We are not surprised that an organization which routinely pursues political activism through the courts is again threatening legal action. We will of course vigorously respond in court, if and when necessary.”

A defamation action has to prove three things, said Fred Kozak, an Edmonton media and defamation lawyer. It has to show the offending comments identified the complainants, that the statements were published and that they would damage their reputation.

“(Those elements) would appear to be pretty straightforward,” he said.

Kozak said Kenney can argue that his comments were either true or fair comment based on the truth.

“The comment has to be grounded in fact. It’s often the case where people get into a dispute over what’s comment and what’s fact.”

Kozak said the complainants also have to show they’ve been harmed by the statements.

“We rely on our good name in order to do the work that we do,” said Tim Gray of Environmental Defence. “Having a senior political leader deliberately mischaracterizing what we do, making accusations that are unfounded, clearly is meant to undermine our effectiveness.”

Some members of the complaining groups have allegedly suffered more direct damages, said an email from Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

“Some of our activists have had to turn their social media accounts over to a friend to report, block and delete the hateful comments and commenters. Prominent climate advocates … regularly get death threats.”

Gray said the promised lawsuit is intended to stop political leaders from using their office as a bully pulpit.

“I think it’s really dangerous to have senior political leaders doing this kind of thing against civil society. We just want it to stop.”

It’s an unusual case that both sides can use to drum up support, Kozak said.

“I don’t think either side is interested in resolving this through an apology or clarification.”

If a lawsuit is ultimately filed, Kozak said it would likely to take years to resolve.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2021.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta ombudsman says she doesn't have the power to probe EMS dispatch consolidation

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s ombudsman says she doesn’t have the power to investigate a complaint about the decision to consolidate ambulance emergency dispatch services in the province.

The complaint was filed by the cities of Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

The municipalities have contended that the decision to consolidate the dispatch services to save the government money could put the lives of people in their communities at risk.

In a release late Friday, Ombudsman Marianne Ryan says the decision was technically made by Alberta Health Services, which her office is prohibited by law from investigating.

When the United Conservative government announced the consolidation in August 2020, then health minister Tyler Shandro said the province’s dispatch system would allow for better co-ordination of all ground ambulances and air resources.

At the time, the four mayors of the municipalities, none of whom are now still in office, said they were blindsided by the decision and would fight the change.

“While the issue being complained about clearly affects many Albertans, I am bound by my governing legislation to only investigate matters that are clearly within my jurisdiction,” Ryan said in the release.

“Given the substance of the complaint has been widely reported in the media and that it relates to an issue affecting a great many Albertans, I advised the mayors that I would be making a public statement.”

Last February, a judge granted an interim injunction sought by Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services after the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo stopped transferring emergency medical calls to the provincial dispatch centre.

The municipality, which includes Fort McMurray, stopped transferring calls after its council decided the provincial ambulance dispatch service was putting patients at risk due to delays and confusion.

A lawyer for Wood Buffalo had argued it was in the public interest for the municipality to keep handling emergency medical calls through its own dispatch centre.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2021

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta Ombudsman can’t do anything about City of Red Deer complaint about 9-11 Dispatch

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Ombudsman Responds to Municipalities’ Complaint About Ambulance Dispatch

Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman took the unusual step of publicly commenting on a complaint received involving Alberta Health Services.

The City of Red Deer, along with the municipalities of Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo filed a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding Alberta Health Services’ consolidation of ambulance emergency dispatch services.

The Ombudsman Act authorizes the Ombudsman to investigate administrative decisions of government ministries and many related bodies, but the Act specifically prohibits her from investigating decisions of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

“My office thoroughly analyzed the complaint and confirmed that the decision to consolidate ambulance dispatch services was indeed made by AHS. While many government-related bodies fall under my jurisdiction, AHS is not one of them,” stated Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman. “In fact, the Ombudsman Act specifically states that my powers of investigation do not apply to health authorities. My ability to investigate AHS decisions would require a change in legislation. While the issue being complained about clearly affects many Albertans, I am bound by my governing legislation to only investigate matters that are clearly within my jurisdiction.”

Investigations by the Ombudsman are conducted in confidence, and it is the Ombudsman’s general practice not to comment publicly on complaints, especially ones that are not being investigated.

“Given the substance of the complaint has been widely reported in the media and that it relates to an issue affecting a great many Albertans, I advised the mayors that I would be making a public statement.”

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