"Like any other tool, language can be abused, used not to build but to destroy, not to communicate but to confuse, not to clarify but to obscure, not to lead but to mislead." - William Lutz
Retired American linguist Dr. William Lutz spent much of his career at Rutgers University studying how language is abused in public conversations. He pointed to government and industry as the worst offenders in a practice known as Doublespeak, which Lutz described as “language designed to evade responsibility, to make the unpleasant appear pleasant … language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t. Language designed to mislead while pretending it doesn’t.”
Dr. Lutz worried that doublespeak has invaded public discourse about important issues. When killing innocent men, women and children is called 'collateral damage', torture becomes 'enhanced interrogation' and the dirtiest fossil fuel becomes 'Clean Coal', public conversations lose meaning. We struggle to make sense of things. These euphemisms sanitize language and steer important issues below the public’s radar.
This is the third and final post in the series China-Canada Investment "Straitjacket:" Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can access Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Canada has already begun the short countdown to the day the China-Canada Investment Deal becomes ratified in the House of Commons, although the nation has been granted no opportunity to clarify or discuss the full economic or environmental significance of the agreement - the most significant in Canada's history since NAFTA.
International investment lawyer and trade agreement expert Gus Van Harten has landed center-stage in the controversy as one of the only figures willing and qualified to speak up against the investment agreement. He told DeSmog that Canada's rush to enter into an investment deal of this sort endangers Canadian democracy, threatens Canadian sovereignty and could fracture the government's loyalty to its people.
In this post, the final segment of our interview with Van Harten, he discusses in more detail just how bad this deal is for Canada economically and how much it threatens to corrupt our way of doing business.
On March 25, 2012, the Compliance Division of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) received a letter from Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP (aka JSS Barristers). In 11 detailed pages, JSS Barristers lodged a complaint against Environmental Defence, a charity registered with the CRA, on behalf of Ezra Levant’s brainchild, the Ethical Oil Institute. A month later, on April 24, the JSS-Ethical Oil team sent the CRA a second, similar letter, this one a 44-page imputation that the David Suzuki Foundation, like Environmental Defence, was “in contravention of the CRA rules surrounding registered charities and political activity.”
According to the CRA, and as echoed in the Ethical Oil Institute’s complaints against Environmental Defence and the Suzuki Foundation, a charity may not be created for a political purpose, and it can't "take part in an illegal activity or a partisan political activity." Specifically, the CRA states that charitable organizations must devote "substantially all" (i.e. 90%) of their resources to charitable activities, and that any political activity is "subordinate" to its stated purpose.
That's not to say that charities can't promote their work and educate the public about issues that have political implications. But in doing so they must ensure that public awareness campaigns aren't their "primary activity, and their information must be "well-reasoned." It goes without saying that they don't connect their views to specific political parties or candidates.
As an example, the CRA states that "a purpose such as improving the environment by reducing the sulphur content of gasoline would very likely require changes in government regulations. Generally, any purpose that suggests convincing or needing people to act in a certain way and which is contingent upon a change to law or government policy (e.g., "the abolition of" or "the total suppression of animal experimentation") is a political purpose."
Given all of this, and given the Ethical Oil Institute’s obvious concern about registered charities flouting CRA rules — namely, engaging in partisan political activity, or spending too much time and money influencing public opinion about laws, policies, or government decisions — it’s surprising that Ethical Oil didn’t send a third letter complaining about perhaps the most politically partisan of all Canadian charities — the infamous Fraser Institute.
Some supposedly "Canadian" oil companies including Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Imperial Oil and Husky are predominantly owned by foreign interests. More than half of Canada’s oil and gas revenue goes to companies under foreign control.
This revelation stands in stark contrast to the talking points of the Harper administration and its media echo chamber, which insist that there is too much foreign influence over Canada's resource decisions from environmental groups. In fact, the evidence shows overwhelmingly that foreign interests are influencing tar sands and other resource decisions - chiefly Chinese and other foreign oil companies.
Recall that when the Ethical Oil Institute launched its allegedly "100% Canadian" OurDecision.ca website, this was the statement by spokesperson Kathryn Marshall: "We’ll never take foreign money to undermine our country’s national interests."
The group admits that it receives funding from companies active in the tar sands. Now that it's been revealed that all these companies are predominently foreign-owned, the group's claims to be 100% Canadian are highly misleading. We await their statement correcting the record.
Anticipating that someone, perhaps from the 'ethical oil' team, will quickly attempt to do damage control by claiming that this is just some ginned up report by ForestEthics, let's be crystal clear that the data underlying the report are all from independent sources including Bloomberg Professional and industry journals.
Just over a week before the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings began, EthicalOil.org and its allies launched a pre-emptive PR offensive on environmental and First Nations groups who oppose the pipeline. Their new website, OurDecision.ca, and ad campaign are an attempt to invalidate opposition to the pipeline by pointing to the small amount of American funding going to some environmental groups, and claiming that pipeline opponents are actually the “puppets” of “foreign interests.”
Sun News was first to promote the campaign, and by the end of the week, numerous papers across Canada were repeating the story. After mentioning last November that "significant American interests" would line up against the pipeline, Stephen Harper eagerly picked up where he left off, touting EthicalOil.org's cause, decrying the foreign influence attempting to “overload” the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Review. By Monday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver had penned a letter to Canadians denouncing the foreign interests trying to “hijack” the review process "to achieve their radical ideological agenda". The same ominous tone and divisive talking points were parroted over and over by EthicalOil.org, Harper, Oliver and the credulous media, driving an entire week of news coverage.
The OurDecision.ca campaign was timed to hit national news just as many Canadians were tuning into this issue for the first time, and this frame (“foreign interests” vs. a “Canadian decision”) could have a lasting impact on how people view one of the most important debates in a generation.
So how did a small industry front group with secretive funding sources manage to have so much impact on the national conversation? Well, it looks like the Harper government, EthicalOil.org, and Sun Media have coordinated with one another to create an echo chamber that turns industry talking points into national news. We'll show how one digital communications company intimately connects EthicalOil.org, the Harper Government and Sun Media.
If the pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. is content to cower behind a 20-something blog manager rather than acknowledge its role in the recent attack on the patriotism of Canadian environmentalists, what hope have we that the company would ever stand accountable for the accidents that will occur – inevitably – if Northern Gateway ever gets built?
That’s a rhetorical question, but a pressing one, given the environmental time-bomb that Enbridge proposes to lay out between the Canadian tar sands and the pristine B.C. coastline.
We actually don’t know for sure that Enbridge is behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute, a phony grassroots organization that was established by Ezra Levant and run for most of its first year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Director of Planning, Alykhan Velshi. But you might come to your own conclusions by watching this clip or reading the transcript below.
As the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel begins hearing over 4,000 comments submitted by community members, First Nations, governments, and environmental groups, the tar sands front group EthicalOil.org has launched its latest PR offensive in support of the pipeline. OurDecision.ca, the new astroturf ad campaign, is another dirty PR attempt to undermine the real and growing grassroots opposition to Big Oil’s plans to ram through this destructive pipeline.
Viewers of Ethical Oil’s disingenuous new ad campaign aren’t being told about the intricate web of industry influence peddlers behind the effort and their connections to the Harper government and oil interests. In the middle of this web is Hamish Marshall, a Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests as well as both the Conservatives and ultra-right wing Wildrose Alliance Party. In this case, the lines between politics and big business interests are so blurred, it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.