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Ah, humour — it’s a subjective thing, and sometimes, jokes fall flat.
Sometimes, though, they fall worse than flat.
Here’s Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, speaking at an oilsands trade show and conference in Fort McMurray, and talking about the fate of environmental protesters in countries like Russia.
“They know they couldn’t get away with this in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In fact, Greenpeace did do a protest on an offshore rig in Russia and their crew was arrested and thrown in a Siberian jail for six months and funnily enough, they’ve never been back,” Kenney said to scattered nervous laughter from the crowd “I’m not recommending that for Canada but it’s instructive. It’s instructive.”
As far as instructive goes, it is a strange combination of scattergun errors and miscommunication. It’s also not very funny.
Premier Kenney appears to be referring to the arrest of Greenpeace’s Dutch-flagged vessel the Arctic Sunrise in international waters, after activists attempted to board a GazProm oil platform in 2013.
The 30 activists on the vessel, who came to be known as the Arctic 30, served two months in detention, not six, and spent that time in Murmansk and St. Petersburg, not in Siberia.
They were fully pardoned by the Russian Duma after their release, the vessel was released after eight months, and the Russian government later agreed to pay US$3 million in damages to the Dutch government for the arrests.
Oh, and the Arctic Sunrise is still regularly involved in protest missions for Greenpeace.
So, just from a fiscal responsibility point of view, we’re glad Kenney is not recommending violating international law and having to pay multi-million-dollar settlements.
But that’s not the point.
Premier Kenney and his government are clearly at loggerheads with the environmental movement. The Alberta government feels that province is being unfairly singled out by the international environmental movement to such a degree that Premier Kenney has set up a public review of foreign funding of environmental groups, promising to spend $2.5 million on the investigation.
But however hard done by Albertans might feel, it’s hard to understand why Kenney feels it necessary to pander to that sentiment, suggesting that there’s some kind of instructive value in what were the illegal arrests and detentions of peaceful protesters.
As Dutch Foreign Affairs minister Stef Blok tweeted in May, “Both countries acknowledge the right to protest at sea. This underlines that ships in international waters cannot be boarded and persons on board cannot be arrested without cause.”
Joking about the “instructiveness” of illegal arrests by foreign strongman regimes is, if nothing else, an invitation to consider options that would normally be seen as unreasonable.
So if it was a joke, it was a very dangerous one.
And perhaps it’s worth pondering what your words might incite, before you decide to toss them out there.