Former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney loses bid to have libel suit dismissed

EDMONTON — Former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has lost his bid to have a court throw out a defamation case brought against him by five environmental groups.

In a judgment delivered on Wednesday, King’s Court Justice Avril Inglis wrote that it was perfectly clear who Kenney was referring to when he commented on the findings of the so-called investigation of anti-Alberta activities in 2021.

“There are no uncertainties in fact or law in this matter,” he wrote.

The lawsuit stemmed from an inquiry called by the Kenney United Conservative government and later led to the activities of environmental groups in Alberta. Media commentators, conservative politicians, and Kenney himself accused them of conspiring to use large amounts of foreign money to blockade the Alberta tar sands using false information about their environmental impact.

The investigation, led by Calgary forensic accountant Steve Allan, found no such conspiracy.

On October 21, 2021, he delivered a report saying that the groups were simply exercising their free speech. The total amount of foreign money spent on campaigns against the oil sands came to about $3.5 million a year, about the same as the cost of Allan’s research.

The Inglis trial says that Kenney, however, took to social media later that day to proclaim: “Foreign-funded disinformation campaigns to lock down Alberta’s resources caused untold hardship for thousands of energy workers and their families.” Today, we are publishing a report that sheds light on these coordinated efforts to harm our province.”

Those posts contained links to Alberta government websites that contained statements such as: “The report confirms the existence of well-funded foreign interests that have been waging a decade-long disinformation campaign aimed at blocking Alberta oil and gas.” “.

That document listed 36 parties investigated by the investigation, including all the whistleblowers.

Former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney loses bid to have defamation lawsuit filed against him by environmental groups dismissed. #abpoli #defamation

Kenney’s lawyer had argued that the social media posts did not actually name the groups in the defamation suit. The names were separated from postings on the government website by two embedded links—enough electronic distance that a reasonable person wouldn’t necessarily know who Kenney was referring to.

Inglis disagreed.

“Defamation law protections cannot be circumvented simply by using embedded links instead of paragraph returns,” he wrote.

“It would overturn libel law if one party were simply allowed to break down their defamatory statement and the identity of the libeled party into separate but closely linked statements and offer the defense defendants have here.”

Neither Kenney nor his attorneys were immediately available for comment Thursday.

When the lawsuit was filed, Paul Champ, a lawyer for the environmental groups, said it was important to hold politicians to account.

“There’s a line that (Kenney) crossed,” he said. “If you don’t hold him accountable for something like this, there really are no limits.”

Tim Gray of Environmental Defence, one of the groups in the lawsuit, said Kenney will now have to defend his comments.

“He took the research findings and decided they didn’t meet his needs and just reinterpreted them and made things up,” Gray said.

The case has not yet been heard in court and the accusations made by the environmental groups have not been proven.

Gray said the case will now enter discovery, in which both sides seek evidence to support their case, often through formal inquiries and document requests. He said his team will look into communication between Allan and the prime minister’s office, as well as any discussion of how Kenney would respond to the report.

“We are looking to see what kind of communication there was when they made the decision to make these (allegedly) defamatory statements,” Gray said.

“We were saying that the expansion of the oil and gas industry is bad for the climate. And it turns out that it is.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 25, 2023.

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