"BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU."
This slogan appeared on posters of the Party leader in the dystopian society of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was a constant reminder of omnipresent government surveillance for “thoughtcrime” – independent thinking.
In Orwell’s book, Ministry of Truth ‘history re-writer’ Winston Smith quietly rebelled against this oppression, starting a diary expressing forbidden thoughts. But government telescreens were everywhere. Watched constantly, Smith’s every move was monitored. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the consequences of being caught were dire; the stress on individuals enormous.
As head of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), I have been feeling a bit like Smith these days. That’s because ICSC has been under investigation by Canada's Competition Bureau, an independent law enforcement agency that “has a legislated mandate to ensure Canadian consumers and businesses prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace.”
Here’s what happened.
In December 2015, while in Paris attending counter conferences to the United Nations’ climate meetings, I learned that the environmental organization Ecojustice had registered a complaint with the Competition Bureau on behalf of six prominent Canadians against the ICSC, Friends of Science, and the Heartland Institute.
Ecojustice claimed we presented “climate science misrepresentations” which “promote the denier groups’ own business interests,” and “promote the business interests of deep-pocketed individuals and corporations that appear to fund the denier groups.”
Our own core principles – which summarize our position on climate science and which we provide on our website – were actually presented as evidence against us.
Two of our allies assembled a 37-page response to the attack in which they presented peer-reviewed research in support of our positions. They suggested I counterattack with this impressive rebuttal.
Others cautioned me to keep my powder dry since the complaint made no sense. We were simply exercising our rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to express our opinions. That is what science is all about – opinions of experts based on their interpretations of observations. And, especially in climate science, different experts have different opinions.
Further, the complainants had no idea who helps the ICSC financially. With the exception of the late Dr. Gerry G. Hatch, an Order of Canada recipient who openly supported us, the identities of our donors have been confidential since 2008. Some of our scientists have been harassed and even had death threats for contesting climate alarmism. We do not want to risk exposing our donors to such abuse.
So I did nothing, hoping the Competition Bureau would dismiss the complaint as unfounded.
Yet, five months later, it did launch an investigation, referencing a complaint that we make “representations to the public in promotion of a business interest that are false or misleading in a material respect regarding climate change.”
The Bureau warned us, “If the results of an investigation disclose evidence that, in the opinion of the Commissioner, provides the basis for a criminal prosecution, the matter may be referred to the Attorney General of Canada, who determines whether a prosecution should be undertaken.”
Although I asked the Bureau where they suspected the ICSC may have made false or misleading statements, it refused to say, citing Competition Act Subsection 10(3), which requires that inquiries be conducted privately.
Aside from a letter in November 2016 informing me that the investigation was “ongoing,” I heard essentially nothing until the beginning of July 2017 when I received a letter from the Bureau informing me:
“While the Commissioner has discontinued the inquiry, and no further steps are contemplated at this time, be advised that no binding determination has been made respecting the conduct of International Climate Science Coalition. The Commissioner continues to have discretion to investigate and take enforcement action in respect of matters previously inquired into, including where additional information is discovered following the discontinuance of an inquiry.”
The National Observer reported that they received an e-mail from a bureau spokesperson concerning this investigation, stating, “We invite Canadians who believe they may have additional information to contact the Competition Bureau.”
So, after nearly 14 months, the investigation is “discontinued” but revivable at the “discretion” of the Commissioner. Ecojustice criticized the Bureau for “walking away without finishing the job, and asserted: “Now is the time we need our cops on the climate beat to be stepping up.”
In their September 19th press release concerning the affair, Friends of Science stated, “democracy is at stake as there are ever increasing calls to jail those who hold dissenting views on climate science.”
Is this the Canada my father and grandfathers defended against tyranny?
Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition.