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Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid of an environmental group targeted by an Alberta oil company threatening legal action.

Pieridae Energy Ltd. issued a letter last month threatening to sue Environnement Vert Plus and its spokesman, Pascal Bergeron, for having disseminated information that it considers confidential, concerning the Goldboro project, a liquefied natural gas plant project in Nova Scotia connected by a pipeline that would cross Quebec territory.

The centre said Friday it is in turn putting the Calgary-based company on notice to immediately stop any attempt to limit its client's freedom of expression.

In March, Environnement Vert Plus and other groups accused Pieridae Energy of lobbying the federal government to obtain nearly $1 billion worth of funding for its Goldboro LNG project.

In an open letter to federal and provincial leaders, the groups asked governments not to finance the project.

In its formal notice, Pieridae Energy accuses the environmental organization and its partners in other provinces of having failed in an obligation based on a relationship of trust. It accuses the environmentalists of illegally using confidential information with the aim of causing financial harm to the company.

"It was not confidential information, and even if it had not already been in the public space, it is information of public interest, so ... in principle, the questions which come under public funds feed the public debate and it is in the interest of the public to have access to it,” law centre Director Genevieve Paul said in an interview.

Pieridae Energy is demanding, among other things, that the groups cease using the information, that the damage caused be mitigated, and that the persons concerned disclose their sources.

"This is akin to an attempted gag order that clearly aims to intimidate people who are mobilized,” Paul said.

She described the threatened legal action as a SLAPP lawsuit — excessive and unreasonable legal action with the purpose of shutting down discussion of issues in the public interest and limiting freedom of expression of the persons concerned.

Paul said the non-profit environmental law group doesn’t want to engage in a lengthy legal battle, it simply wants Pieridae Energy to renounce its threats of prosecution.

"The objective is not to go to court: it is that the people who aim to alert the population to questions of public financing and the environmental risks associated with this project can continue to do their work," Paul said.

In its documentation, Pieridae reports that the Goldboro project is to have two liquefaction units, each producing 4.8 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas per year. The production of one of its units has already been sold to a German company for a 20-year term, it added.

The court has previously issued rulings against SLAPP suits aimed at environmental organizations and conservationists.

In 2011, a Quebec Superior Court judge rejected a case initiated by Petrolia that was considered to be such a suit. That company has since merged with Pieridae.

In addition to Environnement Vert Plus, Pieridae's proposed legal action also targets others who signed the letter to the federal government: the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, Nova Scotia's NOFRAC, the Citizens Oil and Gas Council in Alberta, as well as an environmental activist based in Germany.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2021.

Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press