B.C.'s Christy Clark government is proposing to overhaul the Societies Act, and they've distributed a snoozer of a White Paper to let you know all about it.
If you've dozed off already, WAKE UP, because there's a massive zinger quietly planted deep inside. You can do something about it — more on that at the end of this post. But unmentioned in any preamble or executive summary, Section 99 allows any person (including corporations) to take any registered society to court that they believe is acting contrary to the public interest — whatever that is.
Here it is:
Complaints by public
99 (1) A person whom the court considers to be an appropriate person to make an
application under this section may apply to the court for an order under this
section on the grounds that a society
(b) is carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.
In other words, environmental non-profit groups better watch their step because they're in the cross-hairs. Premier Clark is handing the legal hammer to Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, ExxonMobil, Koch, Encana, Chevron, Sinopec, Suncor and the entire B.C. LNG sector to tie non-profits up in court for years.
Section 99 looks like Clark's close advisor Gwyn Morgan drafted it up during half-time at last year's Grey Cup. Not a single competent lawyer within the Ministry of Justice could say with a straight face that it's constitutional. The clear intent is to silence and intimidate Canadian conservation and environmental non-profits with the threat of litigation. And if mere threat doesn't work, this legislation enables the corporate sector to bludgeon them into lawsuit bankruptcy.
This proposal is one of the most ill-conceived and draconian initiatives to see the light of day in a modern democracy, and reveals the extent of Clark's captivity by the oil and gas lobby. (And one more reason B.C. political leaders should be prevented from funding their election campaigns at the Petroleum Club in Calgary).
But as policy, it's also breathtakingly stupid. As if B.C. doesn't already have the mother of all court backlogs to cope with, the Clark government now proposes to fill up the system with disgruntled parents taking out their beefs in court against a minor hockey association or local elementary school parent advisory council. It will be open season on abortion clinics, LGBTQ organizations and mosques. Don't think for a minute that won't happen.
The real backdrop, of course, is that the Harper government has been on a tear against environmentalists for years, muzzling our scientists and attempting to discredit Canadian environmental NGOs.
The government has spent millions in fruitless CRA revenge audits hunting for a wholly imaginary conspiracy involving Canadian environmental organizations and U.S. scientific and charitable foundations. This vendetta has cost both the charitable sector and public purse untold funds in accounting and legal fees, over nothing.
Agree or disagree with the environmental movement, its members are entitled, as are all of us, to contribute vigorously to public debate over resource development. No one in a free and democratic society should be silenced or censored by fear of government-sanctioned reprisal. But that is precisely the purpose of this legislation.
Christy Clark would do well to remember that Canada is a free nation — our constitution says so. British Columbians, including non-profits, are free to do what we want, express ourselves freely and associate with whomever we choose to, unless it's for an unlawful purpose.
If government wants to limit that freedom it must abide by the Charter of Rights, not force citizens to meet a vague test like "public interest," which doesn't mean the same thing to any two people in the province. That would be the same Charter of Rights that Justice Susan Griffin pounded the B.C. government with during the teachers' dispute.
This White Paper is open to comments by the public until the end of day Wednesday Oct. 15. E-mail yours to the Financial and Corporate Sector Policy Branch here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Chris Yakimov.