Progress Alberta has been granted an emergency injunction by a judge of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ordering the Alberta government to permit the news site’s representative to attend the provincial pre-budget lockup in Edmonton Thursday.
The Edmonton-based progressive news and advocacy organization sought the emergency injunction after it was informed on Monday by government officials its application to attend the lockup had been rejected on the grounds “your organization has been reviewed and determined to be an advocacy organization. As such, your request for media accreditation as been denied. The media embargo is for members of the media only.”
After considering arguments for Progress Alberta made by Edmonton lawyer Heidi Besuijen, Justice Paul Belzil granted the injunction this afternoon, ordering the government to admit Progress Alberta director Duncan Kinney to tomorrow afternoon’s lockup and awarding Progress Alberta $2,000 in costs.
“Progress Alberta will attend the media budget lockup tomorrow,” Kinney said this afternoon. “The judge said we ‘qualify as a media organization.'”
“Taking the Alberta government to court and winning is extremely satisfying,” he added. “Excluding us from the lockup was clearly an arbitrary and political decision, and when government starts deciding who is and who isn’t media, we all lose.”
“This is an important press freedom and freedom of expression case, and I’m glad we took it on and won,” Kinney concluded. “The cherry on top is the $2,000 in costs that was awarded.”
In Progress Alberta’s filings with the court, Kinney said that despite publishing regular news and commentary about Alberta politics to a list of about 12,000 subscribers, he believed his organization had been excluded from the lockup in retaliation for reporting unfavourably on the Kenney government during the 2019 election campaign.
In addition, he said he believed the decision was politically motivated by his announcement last month that an attorney for Progress Alberta had sent a letter to Alberta Energy Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan demanding that he immediately end what critics have termed a political inquisition.
Progress Alberta’s complaint in that case was is based in part on the argument the organization has repeatedly been targeted by Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party government, both during the provincial election last spring and since, “with false accusations that our group was a part of a conspiracy, working in league with American foundations, to sabotage Alberta’s economy.”
Kinney noted that Progress Alberta was previously granted admission as media to a budget lockup in 2019, and that other media organizations that have clear advocacy objectives had been admitted to this year’s lockup. “I am advised by my counsel … that counsel for the Respondent has advised my counsel that amongst those who received media accreditation were the Toronto Star and Grandin Media,” he said in his affidavit filed with the court.
“The Toronto Star espouses the Atkinson Principles which form the basis upon which that media outlet operates and it clearly has some aspect of advocacy to its work,” the affidavit said. “Grandin Media is an organization with links to the Archdiocese of Edmonton which aims to tell ‘inspiring stories of Catholic life.'”
Kinney also told the court Progress Alberta was given no opportunity to address government officials before the decision was made and that he was provided with no information about how it was made.
A sworn statement by the managing director of the communications and engagement office of the Ministry of Treasury Board and Finance, filed yesterday in response to the Progress Alberta action, said “the decision to deny Progress Alberta access to the media embargo was not made on any political consideration or in any way politically motivated.”
“Progress Alberta was denied access to the media embargo as it was determined that it may not have the same incentive as other approved media organizations with relation to breaking news and complying with embargo rules to guarantee future access to the media embargo,” Corey Hogan’s affidavit said.
“Both the Toronto Star and Grandin Media engage in breaking news and have an incentive to abide by the embargo rules so they may continue to receive advanced access to government information,” Hogan said in the affidavit. He said the previous admission of Progress Alberta had been made in error.
By coincidence, Hogan, who was originally appointed by the previous NDP government, is expected to permanently leave his government post on Friday.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: David J. Climenhaga