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DebraW
15-09-2007, 10:51 AM
EUB fiasco: Private eyes versus public interest
Agency's security obsession shows cavalier disregard of Albertans' civil rights

Paula Simons, The Edmonton Journal
Published: September 15, 2007 2:05 am

On April 26, 2007, Ray Ambler, the head of security for Alberta's Energy and Utilities Board, sent out a curious e-mail.

The memo, obtained by Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald through a freedom of information application, outlined plans to hire plainclothes operatives from the Shepp Johnman firm of private investigators to provide security for an EUB hearing into the licensing of a bitumen upgrader near Redwater.

After describing his security plans, Ambler added this aside: "I did some checking with North West Upgrading [s]ecurity and determined that they have no security concerns. They believe that the issues/concerns raised initially by concerned citizens have been mitigated though consultation and communication ... . There (sic) communications people have not heard of any outstanding or threatening issues."

In other words, there was no eco-terrorist threat to the Redwater hearings. The company applying to build the controversial new upgrader had no concerns about violence or disruption.

Nonetheless, Ambler went ahead with his plans to hire private investigators to provide security and monitor the behaviour of the people who attended the public hearings at the Redwater Multiplex. The Shepp Johnman gumshoes weren't in uniform -- they weren't identifiable as security officers. Instead, they blended into the crowd.

But when the hearings were over, Ambler received a stern note from Adela Cosijn, the senior EUB staffer in charge of the Redwater hearings.

Cosijn was upset that Ambler had hired private investigators behind her back -- although she seemed more concerned about the expense than about any violation of civil liberties.

"I was not made aware, prior to the hearing, of the fact that we intended to hire a private security service," Cosijn wrote. "I was therefore taken by surprise by the invoice for an unbudgeted $7,000 from Shepp Johnman.

"I would ask that you include me in any future discussions about the provision of security services for energy hearings," Cosijn continued. "I make this request whether or not the service will result in additional costs as I am also accountable to ensure orderly and safe processes at energy hearings."

To recap: Ambler hired private plainclothes investigators to monitor the public hearings in Redwater even though there was, as he himself acknowledged, little or no fear of violence. And he did it without budget approval, without even consulting or informing the person in charge of the hearings.

It's that kind of cavalier, cowboy attitude towards the civil rights of Albertans that we should find most disturbing -- all the more so, in the wake of a report this week by the province's Privacy Commission, criticizing the way the EUB hired private detectives from the same firm to gather private information about farmers and activists who oppose a proposed transmission line near Rimbey.

In the Rimbey case, the EUB has tried to justify its decision to hire private detectives by depicting the people protesting the planned power line as potentially violent and dangerous. Admittedly, an earlier hearing on the same power line, held in Red Deer, did involve some shouting and shoving.

But what possible excuse could the EUB have to hire undercover detectives for the peaceful Redwater hearing?

The EUB has a vital job in this province. It's the board's duty to oversee utilities, and to decide where and whether we should build new energy infrastructure -- transmission lines, upgraders, oilsands operations. In this crazy boom, it's more important than ever that Alberta's energy regulator do its job well and impartially.

The EUB, as a quasi-judicial body, must act with probity and objectivity. It's not within its mandate to operate as a covert extra-judicial security force.

Might there be some violent landowners out there? We shouldn't dismiss the possibility. There is real anger in rural Alberta about the environmental impact of the resource sector on farms and families. This is, after all, the nexus that gave us Wiebo Ludwig.

In 1998, an angry Bowden farmer, Eifon Wyn Roberts, shot and killed an oil company executive, Patrick Kent, who'd arrived at his ranch to discuss a dispute over soil pollution created by drilling operations.

Nevertheless, it's the job of the RCMP and provincial sheriffs to do threat assessment and enforce the law. The RCMP didn't see landowners in either Rimbey or Redwater as a serious enough concern to put them under police surveillance.

For the EUB to take it upon itself to circumvent the police and the legal process was high-handed, irresponsible and incredibly amateurish.

Rumour has it that Premier Ed Stelmach is poised to announce a major overhaul of the EUB, perhaps as early as next week, when former justice Del Perras releases his own report into the Rimbey affair. A housecleaning won't come a moment too soon.

If Stelmach wants to restore confidence in the board -- and convince Albertans that he's a strong, fresh, leader with real democratic values -- he's got to show he's serious about reining in the EUB cowboys.

[email protected]

The Edmonton Journal 2007

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