'Money Laundering' claim irks green groups
MONTREAL - Environmental groups in Quebec and across Canada are accusing the federal government of engaging in a kind of McCarthyism, painting environmentalists as terrorists and criminals in a bid to discredit and silence critics.
“This is a sustained campaign,” said Steven Guilbeault of the Montreal-based environmental organization Équiterre. “They have been talking about it since January; comparing environmental groups to terrorists, radicals, and money launderers. If I had more money, I would take the minister to court for defamation.”
Guilbeault was responding to various statements by Conservative politicians, including Environment Minister Peter Kent’s recent comments on CBC accusing unnamed environmental organizations of money laundering.
“There have been concerns that some Canadian charitable agencies have been used to launder offshore foreign funds for inappropriate uses against Canadian interests,” Kent said in an interview on the CBC Radio program The House last Saturday.
When host Evan Solomon expressed surprise at the minister’s use of the term money laundering, Kent went on to say, “Canadian charitable agencies are supposed to work under a clear set of guidelines. They aren’t to engage in advocacy or partisan activities.” (In fact, groups with charitable status are permitted by Canadian law to use up to 10 per cent of their total budgets on advocacy.)
Kent used the term “laundering” again Tuesday on the CBC television program Power & Politics, again in reference to environmental groups accepting donations from groups or individuals in other countries and doing advocacy work.
In a blog item posted Friday, John Bennett, Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada, pointed out that money laundering, according to the federal government’s own website is “the process used to disguise the source of money or assets derived from criminal activity.”
“This is ... absolutely irresponsible. A cabinet minister is going around spouting serious allegations without proof ... This is McCarthyism. Period. Back in the late ’40s and ’50s Senator Joe McCarthy made a career out of unfounded accusations of communism against innocent people who he didn’t like ... The whole point of this kind of campaign is to create an atmosphere of fear and apprehension for the targets (me and you), but more importantly for the general public – thereby justifying all sorts of government trampling on human rights.”
Guilbeault said the government has been casting suspicion on environmental groups for months, in an effort to discredit in advance their legitimate criticism of a budget that guts a number of environmental processes, and that commits $8 million over the next two years to cracking down on charitable groups the government considers too political ($3-million of that budget is specifically earmarked for increased audits of charitable organizations by Revenue Canada).
Guilbeault said many groups are afraid of being audited not because they have anything to hide, but because preparing for and undergoing an audit saps time and resources.
“It’s working. I had discussions with (environmental) organizations in different parts of Canada where people say to me,’ No, we can’t put that on our press release because we don’t want to be audited.’”
Guilbeault said the threat of audit will not stop his group from criticizing government moves that hurt the environment.
“We have no intention of changing the way we do things or stopping ourselves from saying what needs to be said about what this government is doing to Canada as a country, to the health of Canadians and the state of our environment.”
Guilbeault went on to say the Harper government’s recent budget implementation bill guts the Fisheries Act, weakens environmental protections, and is mostly designed to make it easier for the oil and gas industry to make a quick buck.
“The oilpatch bought itself a government and now the government is delivering,” he said.
About one-third of the 428-page Budget Implementation Bill (C-38), which went to First Reading last Thursday, deals with major changes to environmental laws and processes. It repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the National Round Table on Environment and Economy Act, and the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. It also substantially changes the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Bill C-38 is expected to be past in late June, after a hearing before the finance committee.
RELATED 1: Sierra Club Canada Executive Director John Bennett pushes back on Environment Minister Peter Kent's 'money laundering' accusations (CBC Power & Politics, May 4, 2012)
RELATED 2: Peter Kent is a big fat liar, Bennett Blog, May 4, 2012