Alberta Energy Regulator (EUB) illegally spied, then lied: “When allegations first surfaced that the EUB had hired private investigators to spy on the public, Mr. Stelmach backed the regulator’s assertions that the charges were false.”

Report says Alberta energy regulator illegally spied by Katherine Harding and Dawn Walton, Sept 14, 2007, The Globe and Mail

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has no plans to act on a report that found the province’s energy regulator illegally spied on private citizens until he hears from a retired judge, who is also probing the growing controversy over a proposed power line.

As evidence mounts that the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board breached privacy laws, the Alberta NDP renewed calls for firings at the embattled agency.

“If there are spies that are out there now, call them back … and assure the public that they won’t be spied on again,” David Eggen, NDP environment critic, said yesterday, shortly after Alberta’s privacy commissioner released his own report on the spying allegations that first surfaced this summer.

Privacy Commissioner Frank Work concluded that the quasi-judicial agency improperly monitored and collected personal information about landowners fighting a proposed power line between Edmonton and Calgary.

The Alberta Liberals want a public inquiry into the matter and are also asking for Energy Minister Mel Knight to resign.

Mr. Stelmach told reporters his Progressive Conservative government takes the matter seriously, but he wants all the facts before acting. “It’s a concern to me that this kind of activity occurs and we are going to deal with it,” he said. He added that decisions could be made as early as next week, after his government reviews a report on the spying scandal being undertaken by former Alberta judge Del Perras.

When allegations first surfaced that the EUB had hired private investigators to spy on the public, Mr. Stelmach backed the regulator’s assertions that the charges were false. But as public pressure grew, Mr. Stelmach appointed Mr. Perras to conduct the government’s own investigation into the matter.

Mr. Work has recommended the energy regulator establish policies on employing private investigators and clearly spell out the roles of those employees to ensure they comply with provincial privacy laws.

Davis Sheremata, a spokesman with the EUB, said the board has “complied and gone beyond” the recommendations, placed its chairman in charge of security and pledged to publicly identify all security workers at future hearings.

“Clearly, things could have been done better and that’s why we’ve changed our policies,” Mr. Sheremata said. But firings or resignations are unnecessary, he added. [Then why did they happen?]

The controversy began when AltaLink asked the regulator for permission to place a 500-kilovolt transmission line between Edmonton and Calgary. While some landowners don’t mind the proposal, many others are opposed to the transmission line and have turned to the courts to quash the plan.

Earlier this year, tempers flared at a Red Deer hearing, where EUB staff were either threatened or physically confronted, prompting the board to increase security for the next set of hearings in Rimbey.

But instead of hiring police or uniformed security officers to monitor the proceedings, the EUB contracted private investigators to conduct “covert security” and “provide intelligence gathering,” according to EUB e-mails outlined in the report.

Concerned for the ongoing safety of their staff, the EUB said yesterday it employed the same technique a few weeks later during hearings into another energy project in Edmonton. In both cases, Mr. Sheremata said, the board contacted police agencies for help, but were told they were either short-staffed or unavailable. And the practice has since been banned. [But, who trusts the AER, then EUB, to do what they promise, or heed laws and their own policies?]

Rimbey-area landowner Joe Anglin, who opposes the power line, was pleased with the commissioner’s ruling, but was disappointed that affected residents were not contacted. He also found some of the conclusions troubling. “We disagree with the information in the report,” he said, “We think they [the EUB]fabricated a security threat. We’ve always maintained that.”

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