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Inquiry into anti-oilsands charities lacks transparency: Conservative senator

Why scrutinize environmental charities and oilsands opponents, when there's no proof of wrongdoing? asks Senator Nancy Ruth.

In the midst of a Senate inquiry demanding higher transparency from environmental charities, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth says the inquiry itself needs to be more transparent.

“Fairness, equity, and transparency are intrinsically important to democratic governance. Subjecting charities to a level of scrutiny through the imposing of the new and higher standards is not transparent, when no proof of wrongdoing has been proven,” said Senator Ruth, in an email to the Vancouver Observer.

The ongoing Senate inquiry aims to crack down on charitable funding from American foundations, which Conservatives say is influencing domestic policy on issues like the oil sands. Meanwhile critics have slammed the government’s decision to allocate $8 million in the federal budget for Canada’s Revenue Agency to investigate overly political action undertaken by charities.

Senator Ruth raised her concerns about the inquiry during a debate last week, noting the fact that foreign corporate interests are not included in the discussion despite their obvious political influence.

“I have three concerns about the inquiry,” she told her colleagues last Thursday, prefacing her arguments with the fact that she supports proposed pipelines such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

“First, if there is going to be an inquiry into foreign influence on Canada's domestic policy, why is the net being cast so narrowly? Why are charities the only entities being subjected to such scrutiny? Second, what concrete evidence substantiates the claim that foreign foundations have pushed Canadian groups into taking positions that they would not otherwise have taken? Third, why are the existing mechanisms for policing the activities of Canadian charities considered inadequate?”

Other senators responded with arguments about “unaccountable environmental organizations” and their “camouflage budgets”, claiming that they often spread misconceptions and use bad science. However, the senators' responses did not directly address the questions Ruth had asked.

“Narrow focus” on anti-oilsands advocacy and environmental charities

Perhaps the most important of Ruth’s critiques is that the inquiry has such a “narrow” focus, taking pains to scrutinize environmental organizations while holding other groups to seemingly different standards.

“The narrow focus sends the message that those whose positions differ from government priorities may be penalized,” she explained, echoing common concerns about the impact of this debate on democracy.

In discussing the Northern Gateway pipeline, Ruth told the Senate, it’s important to remember that charitable groups are not the only ones trying to exert their influence. Foreign investors, lobbyists and business interests who have a stake in policy decisions are excluded from the federal inquiry. And despite the fact that all types of charities are affected by new legislation, environmental groups advocating against the oil sands have been the only ones consistently targeted by politicians.

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