Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

New York Times writer credits Vancouver Observer investigation into tar sands spying

New York Times writer credits Vancouver Observer investigation into oil sands spying

In an op/ed piece "Is Canada Tarring Itself?" - a famed US author links to Vancouver Observer's work exposing the Harper government's extensive spying of groups opposed to the oil sands.

Mychaylo Prystupa
Posted: Apr 1st, 2014

In a scathing Sunday op/ed piece to the New York Times, a celebrated U.S. author used Vancouver Observer's journalism to support his criticism of the Harper government's approach to oil sands development, including the coordination of "intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists."

"This isn't what spy agencies are supposed to be doing," said Jacques Leslie Tuesday from his home, near San Francisco, CA.

"[The Canadian government] is really trying to suppress activity which goes against their political wishes."

Leslie -- a former L.A. Times war corespondent, news bureau chief in several global cities, and author of books on the environment -- said spying is only one aspect of the Harper government's multi-pronged push to advance the oil sands, while subverting opponents.

"The idea that scientific work is being suppressed, environmentalists are being prevented from doing their work, are very upsetting things."

"The impact of tar sands on Canadian politics is not healthy. It's perverted Canadian democracy."

Leslie's opinion piece -- "Is Canada Tarring Itself?" -- was likely seen by hundreds of thousands of people. The influential newspaper has a circulation of 2.4 million readers. In it, he took aim at our Prime Minister.

"Soon after becoming prime minister in 2006, Stephen Harper declared Canada “an emerging energy superpower,” and nearly everything he’s done since has buttressed this ambition. Forget the idea of Canada as dull, responsible and environmentally minded: That is so 20th century. Now it’s a desperado, placing all its chips on a world-be-damned, climate-altering tar sands bet," wrote Leslie.

Harper's new lieutenant responsible for promoting the oil sands -- Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford -- was invited to comment on this story. His office has not yet responded.

Leslie reported that the Canadian government’s 2013-14 budget allocates "nearly $22 million for pro-tar-sands promotional work outside Canada."

Vancouver Observer journalism on spying

As the Vancouver Observer reported last fall, documents and emails obtained through access to information requests showed the National Energy Board was involved in coordinating intelligence and police services to spy on opponents to the oil sands, prior to the start of the Joint Panel Review of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

Emails showed RCMP and CSIS escalated intelligence measures to understand any threats against the Joint Review Panel and its members. An RCMP security official said there was no intelligence showing such threats.

The targeted groups included: Idle No More, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, EcoSociety, LeadNow, Dogwood Initiative, Council of Canadians and the People's Summit.

Likewise in January, the Vancouver Observer broke the explosive story about Chuck Strahl's conflicting roles as both head of Canada's spy watchdog agency, as well as paid duties as a corporate consultant to Enbridge. He later resigned from SIRC under a deluge of criticism from mass media and the public.

NYT cartoon RCMP tarred
New York Times cartoon -- Kristian Hammerstad

Leslie said the pipeline emanating from the tar sands are critical in shaping the challenge of global warming.

"It really makes Canada the most contentious battle ground in terms of climate change in the world."

"This is the battle... that will have some say on whether or not the world gets serious in addressing climate change."

He added, President Obama's decision on Keystone XL, expected later this spring, will also be crucial in the battle against rising greenhouse gases.

"It's an awfully big [decision] - because environmentalists have put so much into fighting Keystone - so a loss would be pretty hard to bare. The same is true of people who are in favour of Keystone. It would be a major setback for whoever loses."

Oil industry response

In response to the New York Times critique, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said the op/ed contains "factual errors" - including claims that the oil sands causes cancer.

The industry lobby group pointed to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health who released a cancer report for Fort Chipewyan on March 25 that said the overall cancer rate in the community is not significantly higher than expected.

It also played down oil sands role in global warming, stating the industry's operations account for 0.14 per cent of global GHG emissions. The measurement does not include emissions from the fuels that are eventually burned from oil sands bitumen, such as gasoline and jet fuel.

Humanity warming the planet

On the same day of the New York Times piece, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new "physical science" chapter of its new Fifth Assessment Report.

It states that new climate extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, have already caused harm to ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure, and negative impacts on human health.

It adds, the "science now shows with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century."

"Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system," states the report.

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased."


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