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Court denies motion to dismiss Jason Kenney libel suit


Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney has lost his bid to have a court throw out a libel case brought against him by five environmental groups.

In a ruling on Wednesday, Court of King’s Bench Judge Avril Inglis wrote that it was abundantly clear who Kenney was referring to when he commented on the findings of the so-called anti-Alberta activity investigation in 2021.

“There is no uncertainty of fact or law in this case,” she wrote.

The lawsuit stemmed from an investigation launched by the Kenney United Conservative government and then conducted into the activities of environmental groups in Alberta. Media commentators, Conservative politicians and Kenney himself have accused them of conspiring to use vast amounts of foreign money to land Alberta’s 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 the groups were simply exercising their freedom of speech. The total amount of foreign money spent on anti-tar sands campaigns was about $3.5 million a year – about the same as the cost of Allan’s investigation.

Inglis’ judgment says Kenney, nonetheless, took to social media later that day to proclaim, “Foreign-funded disinformation campaigns to landlock Alberta’s resources have caused untold hardship to thousands of energy workers and their families. Today we released a report that highlights these coordinated efforts to harm our province.

These messages contained links to Government of Alberta websites containing statements such as: “The report confirms the existence of well-funded foreign interests who are waging a decade-long campaign of disinformation with the aim of enclaving Alberta Oil and Gas.”

This document listed 36 parties under investigation, including all complainants.

Kenney’s attorney had argued that the social media posts didn’t actually name the groups in the libel suit. The names were separated from the posts 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 avoided simply by using embedded links instead of paragraph returns,” she wrote.

“It would violate defamation law if a party were simply permitted to sever their defamatory statement and the identity of the defamed person in a separate but closely related statement and offer the defense that the defendants have here. “

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

When the complaint was filed, Paul Champ, a lawyer for 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 that, there really is no limit.”

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

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

The case has not yet been heard in court and the claims by environmental groups have not been verified.

Gray said the case will now go into discovery, in which both sides seek evidence to support their case, often through formal motions and requests for documents. He said his team would seek communication between Allan and the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as any discussion of how Kenney would react to the report.

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

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

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

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