Advocates take Harper to court over ‘pattern of muzzling’ energy critics

Advocates take Harper to court over ‘pattern of muzzling’ energy critics by David Ball, August 14, 2013, The Tyee.ca
One of Canada’s top constitutional lawyers is taking the Conservative government to court over increasing restrictions on who can speak at energy board hearings — and what they are allowed to say. Decrying federal changes to the National Energy Board Act as a “chilling effect” and “breach of constitutional free speech,” Clayton Ruby launched a court challenge yesterday on behalf of ForestEthics Advocacy, an organization he chairs. The lawsuit, which has not yet been given the go-ahead by a judge, is challenging increased limits on who can address the board on applications for such projects as oil sands pipelines. The reforms force participants to prove they are directly impacted by a project, for instance if it crosses their property. “This is part of a pattern of muzzling to keep the Canadian public from getting concerned,” Ruby told The Tyee. “These are vital issues, and the government wants as little discussion about them as possible; they want silence… you can no longer talk about certain subjects, they narrowed the scope of what you can say, they will not hear you if you are indirectly affected, and the process requires a nine-page application form, even for a one-page submission.”

But Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver retorted that the board has not impinged on free speech, since it “permits submissions from individuals impacted by the project.” “The democratic right to express a public opinion is honoured in Canada,” Oliver said in an emailed statement. … Ruby described the government’s approach as creating a “chill effect on free speech,” because small organizations are scared of losing their charitable status, and increased hearing restrictions will dissuade citizens from participating. “These hearings — which they view as troublesome — will no longer cause them any trouble,” Ruby claimed. “They’ve turned the National Energy Board from a final decision-maker into an advisory board. The final decision is now made by Mr. Harper and his cabinet, not by the board.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Fracking. The One Per Cent. Collapsing Canadian Courts. Jessica Ernst of Rosebud, Alberta

In Alberta And B.C.: Stephen Harper Destroying The Rule Of Law

Fracking: Feds Throw Wrench in High Profile Lawsuit, Judge suddenly promoted; plaintiff Ernst sees strategy to ‘delay and exhaust.’ ]

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