Canadians deserve to know the truth about what was said between the Prime Minister’s Office and Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan.
Some of you may be familiar with my story as a whistleblower. For those who aren’t, here’s the Coles Notes version: My name is Andrew Frank, and last week I was fired from ForestEthics Canada, a charitable project of Tides Canada, an environmental charity.
I was fired because I gave Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan, the “heads up” that I was going to swear an affidavit, and go public with a story that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had threatened his charity and labelled ForestEthics, an “Enemy of the Government of Canada” and an “Enemy of the People of Canada.”
It’s a story that was confirmed for me by several senior sources at Tides, as well as through email correspondence, all of which is included in my sworn affidavit. It also turns out it was common knowledge within the environmental community, even among people who were not employed by Tides Canada or ForestEthics.
On Friday, January 20th, I told Mr. McMillan that under the media spotlight, he would have a chance to tell the truth and be on the right side of history. He thanked me for the “heads up” and then promptly made the decision to fire me over the weekend. My firing notice arrived on Monday the 23rd, just after I had sworn my affidavit, but before I had formally gone public with my story.
For those of you who might question if I was fired for anything other than telling the truth, here’s what ForestEthics Executive Director, Todd Paglia, told staff in an email, two hours after I was fired:
“The lawyer in me says stop this email right now but I will say this: this is a sad day and then some. Andrew was a great colleague and communications staffer and I will miss his expert hand and his fighting spirit. And I really wish he did not make this termination a foregone conclusion.”
Clearly there’s a question of wrongful dismissal here, and whistleblower protection in Canada is virtually non-existent, but I think the ramifications of this story are much bigger than my singular firing.
What this disturbing episode tells me, is that the elite brand of environmentalism practiced by big foundations like Tides Canada, can, when it matters the most, be more concerned about its own political interests, than in the interests of its partners on the ground, like the First Nations and grassroots community groups who oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil tanker and pipeline project.
I risked my career and shared my story with my fellow Canadians for two reasons:
1) The Prime Minister’s Office was apparently working behind the scenes to undermine a registered intervenor (ForestEthics) in the National Energy Board’s Enbridge pipeline review, a process the government has singled out as its official mode of “consultation” with First Nations. The integrity of that consultation is now in question, and First Nations lawyers will have a field day in Supreme Court (if the project ever gets there) casting doubt as to whether the government consulted in good faith. This was information I had to share with First Nations.
2) Canadians deserve to know that the Prime Minister’s Office is apparently labeling its own citizens “enemies.” It is the language of bullying and it is language that is above the law and probably illegal. There was a look of fear and disbelief on my fellow staff members’ faces the day we were told our own government had labeled us enemies of the state. Upon hearing the news, our office administrator broke into tears. It’s a scene I won’t soon forget, and it's an injustice I plan to correct.
Since writing my open letter last Tuesday, it has been read online close to 70,000 times, and it has sparked an online citizens’ movement to hold this government to account. Margaret Atwood has called this scandal #EnemyGate on Twitter, and since I wrote my letter, I’ve received hundreds of emails and phone calls from supportive Canadians of all ages and walks of life across the country. It has been truly inspiring.
What has been most frustrating in all of this, is that Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan, has it firmly within his grasp to tell the truth. If my facts are wrong, I hope he will correct them, preferably in a sworn affidavit. Saying my story is “inaccurate” does nothing for the Canadian citizens or environmental allies who are trying to hold this government to account.
When I told Mr. McMillan that I was going public, he said that it would be like, “blowing up a bomb in your own house,” and that it would damage the environmental movement. The fact is that Mr. McMillan is the only man who can defuse this bomb. So far the Prime Minister’s spokesman is refusing to comment on whether Tides Canada and ForestEthics were targeted by the PMO. The ball is firmly in Mr. McMillan’s court, and we’re all ears.
In the mean time, the environmental movement would do well to take a hard look in the mirror. When telling the truth becomes revolutionary within a social movement, something is wrong. When environmental groups accept foundation money, what strings are attached? Can we always speak the truth, even on the gravest of matters and of the utmost importance to our fellow citizens and allies?
The absence of a full airing of the truth of this matter, will only feed the scaremongers who say shadowy U.S. environmental foundations are harming the interests of Canadians. Right now, they’d be right, but not for the reasons espoused by the “ethical oil” people. Canadians deserve to know if this language is being used at the highest levels of their government. If it is, it is a direct affront to the most basic tenets of citizenship and what it means to be Canadian. It is information we must have in order to protect our rights and our democracy.
I call on Prime Minister Harper and Ross McMillan to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Anything less is unacceptable, and a slap in the face of those who oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil tanker and pipeline project.
Help Mr. McMillan tell the truth by sending a supportive letter to Ross.McMillan@tidescanada.org