No one will be disciplined — AEUB, Hiring of P.I.s to spy on opponents was ‘learning opportunity for the future’

No one will be disciplined — AEUB, Hiring of P.I.s to spy on opponents was ‘learning opportunity for the future’ by Jim Farrell, June 22, 2007, The Edmonton Journal
No one with the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board will be disciplined “at this time” for hiring private investigators to spy on opponents of a proposed north-south power line, a spokesman for Energy Minister Mel Knight said Thursday. As controversy swirled around the use of private investigators to spy on people opposed to the power lines, Knight said Wednesday he would discuss the matter with the board. “It is imperative that Albertans see the AEUB and the regulatory process as neutral,” he said. Knight completed his inquiry Thursday morning with a phone call to acting AEUB chairman Brad McManus. “He had a very frank discussion with Mr. McManus about violence and threats of violence as well as some of the allegations (about the private investigators),” Knight’s spokesman Jason Chance said. “They discussed in hindsight that some of the things could have been handled differently and will be using this as a learning opportunity for the future. There will be no disciplinary measures at this time.” The investigators were hired to monitor the potential for violence among a crowd comprised mostly of landowners who gather daily in the Rimbey Recreation Centre to watch televised proceedings of an AEUB panel being held in a nearby courthouse. The sessions are supposed to be public, but the AEUB panel chairman barred the public because earlier hearings in Red Deer were disrupted by yells, catcalls, shoving and — in one case — a 70-year-old woman’s punch aimed at a staff member. The AEUB hired four undercover investigators who pretended to be landowners to monitor the crowd. One investigator, Don MacDonald of Fort Saskatchewan, was subsequently invited to join in conference calls that linked landowners and environmentalists discussing their concerns about power-line development. In at least one of those calls, the landowners and a lawyer discussed legal strategy for an upcoming challenge before the Alberta Court of Appeal. One of the lawyers for the landowners said Thursday that eavesdropping on solicitor-client telephone conversations will be raised with the courts in an effort to bring the AEUB hearings to a halt.

The Journal’s requests for an interview with AEUB’s security manager were declined. Questions posed by e-mail about eavesdropping activities, deceptive practices and whether the investigators passed information to other agencies elicited a single answer. “We have a firm policy not to discuss EUB security in-depth publicly because that could compromise our security measures, which are designed to protect our staff and participants and members of the public attending our hearings,” an AEUB spokesman e-mailed. A University of Alberta political science professor rejects the AEUB rationale. “There are some very obvious security threats to oil and gas production and we shouldn’t discount that, but that is a totally different matter from public engagement in hearings,” said Lois Harder, a specialist in Canadian politics. “The effort to keep insisting this is a security issue is a ruse. It’s trumped up.”

Democracy in Alberta just took another shot, Harder said.“It’s very clear that if there is a threat of violence you call the police, not a private investigator who has no power to stop a threat of violence,” Harder said. Premier Ed Stelmach has defended the AEUB’s tactics as necessary to counter potential violence. [Emphasis added]

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