Environmental Defence Canada Executive Director Tim Gray.

If Jason Kenney’s lawyers give him sensible advice, they’ll tell him to seek a compromise with the coalition of eight environmental groups that threatened last month to sue him if he doesn’t retract and apologize for statements they say defame them. 

That could save Alberta’s premier a lot of grief and us Albertan taxpayers a lot of money. 

But it’s not very likely the advice Kenney wants to hear, or what he’d be inclined to think is the most politically effective course of action, so he’ll probably opt for an expensive legal fight. Why not? Chances are small he’ll be the one who ends up having to pay the bill. 

Yesterday, Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, told Alberta Diary that “we have received a letter from a private law firm that the premier has retained stating that a response to us will be forthcoming soon.”

A lawyer for the eight environmental groups — which in addition to Environmental Defence are the Dogwood Initiative, 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 — wrote Kenney on Nov. 22 to advise him of their intention to sue for statements he made after the release of the report of the $3.5-million “Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns” if he refuses to apologize and retract.

Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ’s letter concluded: “We look forward to your response by no later than Tuesday, November 30, 2012.”

However, Gray said in his email yesterday, “Our legal team feels that we should give them some time to review the material etc. and respond to us about how the premier intends to address our concerns.”

Also yesterday, Champ told the Canadian Press that “we fully expect Premier Kenney will get solid advice on this matter.”

“Assuming the premier follows this advice, we expect to see those posts taken down with an apology,” he added.

The eight environmental groups argue comments about the Inquiry’s findings published by the Government of Alberta on its Alberta.ca website claimed falsely the report of Commissioner Steve Allan “confirms the existence of well-funded foreign interests that have been waging a decade-long campaign of misinformation.”

Those statements were “repeated and amplified by you on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter,” the letter said. 

“The Alberta government’s new Inquiry website also repeats the false claim that Commissioner Allan confirmed the existence of ‘campaigns based on misinformation’ that have ‘impacted the lives and livelihoods of Albertans’ and ‘cost Albertans and Canadians thousands of jobs,'” the letter added. 

“These statements are defamatory as they assert that our clients have spread ‘misinformation.’ Implying or stating that a person is deliberately untruthful has been found by many courts to be defamatory,” it continued. “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.

“Premier Kenney, you are doubtless fully aware that the Alberta Inquiry makes no such finding. In fact, Commissioner Allan is clear throughout his report that he could not make any finding or suggestion that ‘any information disseminated by any organization is false or misleading,'” the letter said. “Notwithstanding the Commissioner’s unequivocal statements, you and your government falsely proclaim the Inquiry found that the Groups were involved in a ‘decade-long campaign of misinformation.'”

The letter demands the province delete all reference to misinformation on the Alberta.ca website, retract and remove similar statements made by the premier on Facebook and Twitter, and publish an apology on Kenney’s Facebook and Twitter accounts “expressly confirming that the Alberta Inquiry states in its final report that it did not make any finding or suggestion that any information disseminated by any organization is false or misleading.”

In late November, the premier’s office responded defiantly to the legal threat. “We will of course vigorously respond in court, if and when necessary,” a spokesperson said at that time.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...