The agency responsible for security across Parliamentary Precinct in Ottawa seems to be inadvertently taking sides in Canada’s politically fraught energy debates, after an oil and gas executive associated with the pro-fossil Canada Action lobby group tried to wear a provocative “I love Canadian oil and gas” t-shirt during a visit to the Senate.
The message was certainly (absolutely!) within the realm of the free speech rights any Canadian should expect. But there was just one problem: The Parliament of Canada’s website warns that “participating in any form of demonstration inside the buildings is prohibited, including wearing items or clothing with visible political messages,” CBC reports.
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So during a Senate tour last week, William Lacey, CFO of Calgary-based Steelhead Petroleum, “was told by a security guard that he would have to remove his shirt because it could be offensive,” CBC writes. “He says he chose to turn the shirt inside out to be part of the tour because his other option was to leave.” Afterwards, he explained that he’s “worked in the sector for more than 20 years and wore the shirt in Ottawa because he’s proud of the energy industry, but knows many people think of it negatively,” the national broadcaster adds.
The episode was enough to raise the ire of pro-fossil senators during a committee meeting last Thursday.
“As a Canadian, I find it outrageous,” thundered Sen. David Tkachuk (C-SK), the fiercely partisan committee chair who spent more than a year dissecting the federal government’s proposed Impact Assessment Act, Bill C-69, ultimately incurring criticism for wasting government resources.
“As a western Canadian, I just find that outrageous,” echoed Saskatchewan Conservative Denise Batters.
“It’s important that people should be allowed to express themselves in a positive and non-confrontational way,” Lacey said. He questioned whether an “I love Canadian forests” t-shirt would have produced the same reaction, then wrote to members of Parliament, senators, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to complain about the experience.
The Parliamentary Protective Service caved almost immediately. “Personnel misinterpreted a message on the visitor’s article of clothing,” wrote Acting Chief of Staff Guillaume Vandal. “The staff involved will be receiving operational guidance and training with respect to visitors to the Hill.”
Left unanswered were two questions: how, exactly, the security staff misinterpreted the message on Lacey’s shirt, and how far their upcoming “operational guidance” will go.
“Does your response to the original complaint in this matter mean the Parliamentary Protective Service would now permit an equal and opposite message, supporting a fossil fuel phaseout that helped protect Canadians from the worst impacts of a climate crisis that the House of Commons has already declared an emergency?” The Energy Mix wrote Friday, kicking off a series of questions to the PPS media desk.
“If not, does that mean the Parliamentary Protective Service now considers it political speech to support a managed decline in fossil fuel development, but non-political speech to explicitly support expanding that same industry? If so, on what evidence base is the Parliamentary Protective Service taking sides?” And “how will your responses to these questions shape the ‘operational guidance’ M. Vandal promised for front-line staff?”When The Mix called the PPS last Friday, the day after the CBC report, it was clear the organization was under pressure and utterly unaccustomed to the scrutiny it was receiving. By Tuesday, there’d been no response to the original set of questions. After a follow-up call, we received an email with a repeat of Vandal’s initial statement, leaving the follow-up questions unaddressed