When Tzeporah Berman arrived at the protest on Burnaby Mountain, a friend handed her a bullhorn and said, “Do what you do.”

She looked out at the crowd "with a tremendous sense of hope" and told them to prepare for arrest if they crossed the police line at the site of the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta.

"It was a very powerful day for me," she told National Observer. "It was the first protest on Burnaby Mountain."

Five years later, a photo of Berman on that hopeful day on the outskirts of Vancouver is being used to foment hatred against her.

A poster showing the photo of Berman with a red circle around it, and a diagonal line through it, is labelled “TZEPORAH BERMAN ENEMY OF THE OILSANDS.”

A man representing a group called Oil Sands Strong held the poster and Berman’s CV up for the cameras and denounced her as he introduced Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at a June 7 news conference to announce a $30-million government “war room” against oil and gas industry critics.

The next day, hate messages arrived on Berman’s Twitter account, phone and email. She received death threats, anti-Semitic messages and threats of sexual violence.

‘Un-Albertan activities committee’

Berman, international program director at Stand.earth, later watched that and another news conference “in horror.” At the other one, Kenney announced an inquiry into foreign funding of groups which criticize Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

Tzeporah Berman has received threats of violence and sexual assault over her opposition to the oilsands and pipelines. She worries the organized demonization of her and other activists is putting a chill on open dialogue in Alberta on climate change.

Berman is among those who call it Kenney’s “Un-Albertan activities committee,” a play on the House Un-American Activities Committee and the anti-Communist witch hunts of U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1940s and ’50s.

Based in Vancouver with her husband and children, Berman is one of Canada’s most accomplished environmentalists. She was pivotal in landmark agreements to protect B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, Canada’s boreal forest and in the previous Alberta government’s climate change and energy policy development.

She has been a leader since volunteering in the early ’90s at age 23 as a cook at a Greenpeace camp at Clayoquot Sound, which drew some 12,000 people over four months to blockade clear-cut logging.

Her achievements were recognized in 2013 with an honorary law degree at the University of British Columbia, “a big and proud moment” for her.

The citation for the degree hailed her strategic, articulate and balanced approach, and her ability to foster dialogue among business, government, environmental and aboriginal communities. It said she is “equally effective in the boardroom as on the front lines of peaceful demonstration.”

Today, Berman is concerned that the organized personal demonization of her and other activists is putting a chill on open dialogue in Alberta about climate change and fossil fuels.

Environmentalists are clearly targeted. Energy companies are silent, unwilling to “break ranks” and encourage dialogue about policies, such as a cap on oilsands greenhouse gas emissions, that they helped create under the NDP government of Rachel Notley.

“And it also puts a chill on citizens, people who were speaking up,” Berman said.

Berman hid in a bathroom stall

In 2017, when she was co-chair of the Oil Sands Advisory Group appointed by Notley, Berman endorsed the B.C. New Democratic Party. It plunged her into controversy. Notley’s government badly wanted to get the pipeline going while the B.C. NDP opposed it.

Notley had already defended Berman’s appointment against opposition calls to fire her after she spoke against the pipeline when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government had purchased the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and the expansion project.

The 18-member advisory group had been set up to make recommendations on implementing the oilsands emissions cap and other elements of Notley’s 2015 Climate Leadership Plan.


Then-Alberta Premier Rachel Notley addresses media in Ottawa on Feb. 28, 2019. Photo by Andrew Meade

Amid opposition outrage in the legislature and some media that an anti-pipeline activist was advising the government on the oilsands, Berman was assaulted at the Edmonton airport.

“A huge man came toward me, yelling at me, and then he grabbed me and started shaking me and there was spit flying into my face. I was scared. I twisted away from him and ran into the women’s bathroom and hid in a stall for a long time.”

She ventured out in time to board her flight. The man had gone.

Young women have told Berman they don’t think they can participate in environmental activism if that’s how they may be treated. “That’s really sad,” she said.

‘Public humiliation’ campaign took a toll

Clean-energy expert Ed Whittingham similarly endured a “public humiliation campaign” that took an emotional toll on him and his family. He told National Observer he is “profoundly disappointed” that more people and organizations are not stepping up to call out the abuse.

“We need people to claw back the middle ground, and to do that, they need to stand up and say this is wrong,” he said. “They may disagree with Tzeporah's perspectives or my perspectives, but this kind of personal invective is going too far."

Whittingham is a former executive director of the Pembina Institute, a widely respected Alberta-based energy think tank founded in 1985.

When he was appointed to the board of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in February 2019, the Calgary Herald labelled him an “enemy” of the oil and gas industry. “Whittingham’s appointment is Tzeporah Berman 2.0 — only worse,” the paper said.

“Once you're called an enemy, it's a very short step to being called an enemy of the state, or as I say, a ‘Kennemy of the state,’" Whittingham said.

Ed Whittingham
Ed Whittingham, a former executive director of the Pembina Institute, at his home in Canmore, Alta., July 13, 2019. Family photo

Whittingham never opposed the Trans Mountain pipeline, but his career as a clean-energy adviser was reduced to an internet meme smearing him as anti-oil and gas industry. He was treated as a punching bag in the Alberta election campaign, along with Berman.

Kenney got thousands of likes for a tweet announcing he would fire Whittingham from the AER if he won the election.

He read a few comments on Kenney’s Twitter feed “and figured that this was going to be very bad for my mental health."

Whittingham quit the day before the incoming premier planned to fire him.

Vilification won’t deter Berman

"Twitter, unfortunately, has become a platform for anger where people say awfully hateful things that they would never say to someone's face," Whittingham said.

He says Berman has had it worse than him.

"Tzeporah has endured horrific abuse,” he said. “The fact that I'm a man and not a woman means it's not as bad, because there's a lot of misogyny wrapped up in the abuse directed at her."

Notley had defended Berman’s appointment for months, on grounds that diverse voices were needed. But in June 2017, she let her go. Berman had become a political liability.

When Berman travelled to deliver a speech to the Alberta Teachers’ Association titled We’re better than this, she went nowhere unaccompanied and booked a hotel under another name. She had consulted the RCMP.

It is not the first time she has been labelled an enemy. But it is by far the worst.

Tzeporah Berman

Tzeporah Berman on Burnaby Mountain. Published Nov. 6, 2014. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa/Vancouver Observer

The first time was during a backlash to campaigns by Greenpeace, where she was prominent, and other environmental groups to reform forestry practices in B.C.

“I was run off the road. I was refused to buy groceries or fill up my car. I was spit on when I was waiting in the lineup for coffee at the cafeteria on the ferry. I received death threats. We don’t know if it’s related, but my apartment burned down and the police confirmed that it was arson.”

The details are chronicled in her 2011 book This Crazy Time.

In 1997, then-NDP B.C. premier Glen Clark called her and other protesters “enemies of British Columbia.”

He was reacting to a campaign calling on companies to stop buying products from the three largest logging firms in the province. But he never whipped up fear and hatred, she said.

And eventually, legislation was put in place to protect the Great Bear Rainforest and reform forestry practices identical to what they had proposed. “We were called environmental heroes,” she said.

The vilification today sometimes makes her sad, frustrated and frightened. But she said it will not deter her.

“I know why I do what I do, and I have a strong sense of purpose around it,” she said. “I believe stopping the expansion of the oil and gas industry and reducing pollution, developing cleaner alternatives, at this moment in history, is the only moral choice.”

Making enemies lists is ‘infantile’

Avrim Lazar, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada 2002-2012, worked with Berman for two years to negotiate the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement of 2010.

“If anybody thinks the solution is making enemies lists, that's just infantile,” Lazar said in an interview with National Observer. “Demonizing the voices of the other side is just a cop-out.”

Avrim Lazar
Avrim Lazar, former president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada. Photo handout

The environmentalists’ main aim in the boreal forest talks was a halt on logging in all 30 million hectares of caribou habitat in Canada.

“Everyone said that it was impossible,” Berman wrote in her book. “Everyone hadn’t met Avrim Lazar.” This was a learning moment for Berman. She said it showed her the importance of seeing people, not positions. It’s a lesson she embraces to this day.

The agreement brought together 21 large forest companies and nine environmental groups to protect threatened woodland caribou. Most of the companies and groups are still on board.

“I worked in government for 25 years, industry for 17 years. Tzeporah is a Canadian hero,” Lazar said.

“Am I going to say she was always reasonable? No. Am I going to say her judgment was always sound? No. But is she a force for good? Is she a force for positive evolution of the Canadian economy and Canadian environmental protection? Absolutely.

“We're better off as a country, and we should be grateful that we have our Tzeporahs.”

Lazar said the energy industry’s challenges now are basically the same as in the forest sector.

“The essential dilemma, how you protect biodiversity and how you protect climate, while at the same time trying to protect Canada's competitiveness and our standard of living and our economy ⁠— it's exactly the same issue,” he said.

“If you win for the oilsands, you haven't won anything and if you win for the environment and the economy gets trashed, it's not going to be a sustainable win. So it is the same fundamental dilemma.”

Berman sees parallels, but big differences, too.

“In the ’90s, forestry and conservation issues had reached a tipping point where people were sitting around their kitchen tables talking about them,” she said. “I think that’s true today of the pipeline debate.”

The big difference, she said, is that the aggressive nature of the attacks on people concerned by climate change and fossil fuel expansion “is magnitudes greater than what was happening during the ‘war in the woods.’”

“The reason is the fossil fuel industry is fighting for its life,” she said. “These companies can see that as the price of renewables drop, as more and more countries set dates for banning the fossil fuel car, as new technologies emerge, the days of oil, gas and coal are limited.

“They’re trying to hold on for their lives. This is their last gasp.”

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A pitiful few of the Oil/Gas oligarchic corporations are hedging their bets trying to greenwash some of their investments. This tokenism will not save their corporations. The writing is on the wall. It may take another generation, or two, but the money, the investors, are going to switch to what brings in returns. Oil/Gas has had a pretty long run but it is over now and they need to adjust. Even their petro-chemical allies/subsidiaries are looking at an end game if they too don't make their products biodegradable. Nowhere on this planet are there willing waste sites for plastics, nowhere in our oceans, in our drinking water, in our bodies is there room for the microparticles/fibres contaminating this world and doing unknown magnitudes of harm to life on earth.

Well said!

Absolutely. We just need to hope we've enough time left to make this transition. Unless more and more of us stand up to the violence rising against economic change, it might be too little to late. Tseporah can't be expected to do it all on her own....she needs all of us who know on side.

What will it take, this time around, to get 12,000 people out blocking the TransMountain pipeline from ever getting built?

If you support and protect the future for sentient beings you are the enemy of the Oil and Gas Industry according to right wing fascists that promote violence and hate.

Kenney refuses to acknowledge to himself and to Albertans that oil cannot compete against clean energy. Climate change in this sense is irrelevant. But Kenney will use it to bully his way through failed economics. Like Trump, Kenney has his base to appease to. Like Trump, Kenney's Squad is environmentalists who support a Green New Deal, who promote clean energy. Kenney is wasting taxpayer money to promote policies that push us back to the Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs became extinct. And like Trump, Kenney promotes disinformation to achieve his subjective objectives. Who needs science?

It is sad to see so many Canadians following the lead of right wing bigots like Donald Trump and his followers. I had always hoped that we were still the Canada of the 60's, still steeped in multiculturalism and labelled year after year by the UN as the best country in the world. A country whose leaders gain political points by attempting to frighten and humiliate their political opponents is not the best country in the world.

But I'm afraid we should have expected it, once the spin became common, that oil and gas fueled the economy, and were absolutely essential to our well being. It isn't true, but too many still believe that 20% of Alberta's economy, and less than 5% of Canada's (if my memory serves me) is the essential component of continued prosperity. Our solar panels say otherwise, but too few ask us about that....assuming perhaps that we are environmental fanatics, or some such thing.

FWIW, the numbers Barry Saxifrage gave in a National Observer article were ~2% of federal GDP, <1/2% of any other province's GDP (an average of .2%), whereas over 90% of the benefit goes to ... wait for it ... TaDaaaaaa: Alberta!!!
National interest, indeed.
I was shocked when I first read them. I knew they were nowhere what folks generally guess, but I was shocked that even I over-rated their positive impact.

“Kenney announced an inquiry into foreign funding of groups which criticize Alberta’s oil and gas industry.”
Am I missing something here?
Aren’t most of the oil companies foreign owned? Isn’t that how Alberta gets its’ oil money?
Yet Kenney is slamming people who want a liveable planet, because they possibly getting some foreign financing?
Sounds like he’s biting fellow Canadians for eating from foreign hands (which they may not be doing anyway), while he’s fighting for Alberta’s 3% royalty of the foreign pie. And he’s left with a disastrous cleanup when his guests have stripped the cupboards bare.
Who is this guy?

You make all good points as to what our politicians are letting big international oil companies get away with. Draining our natural resources for a pittance of a royalty while they like the bandits they are reap billions.

Who is this guy? And what institutions, what big money (often foreign) supports his view of the Canadian economy? The Koch bros come to mind.....but I'm sure that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Witness Jason Kenney contributing to the War on Women with his tactics of pure, unadulterated hatred as he emulates his mentors Daffy Donald Dumpty and friends — will sexism and misogyny always be tools of these chauvinists?

Only as long as they work........we need to find ways of shaming anyone who attacks on the basis of gender or ethnicity......it may have gone underground the last few years........into the military and police and fire services, yes....but its still out there, and provides some kind of thrill for the marginal male right wing.

We all need to see that clearly.

"She received death threats, anti-Semitic messages and threats of sexual violence."

Right-wing Albertans delegitimize themselves out of the gate. On the bright side, that means the rest of us don't have to bother arguing with them. The science and the facts are not on their side, and they know it. Hence, the resort to personal attacks, ad hominems, and dumbed-down denialism.

The oilsands advocacy group Canada Action started an online petition to get Berman removed as a keynote speaker at the 2018 Alberta Teachers’ Association conference.

Instead of responding with counter-evidence and facts, industry prefers to stifle dissent, intimidate the opposition, and shut down the conversation on energy and environment.
Insecurity or arrogance?

"She was pivotal in landmark agreements to protect B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, Canada’s boreal forest and in the previous Alberta government’s climate change and energy policy development."

Alberta's Climate Plan was a plan to fail.
At the AB Teachers Association conference last November, Berman and Notley went head to head.
Notley stopped just short of calling Tzeporah Berman a liar:
"Notley says she needs to go [to the Alberta Teachers Association conference], in her words, 'to counter misinformation and ensure that the whole story is told.'" (Canadian Press)

The Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG) was to advise on the implementation of the oilsands emissions cap. At 43% above 2015 levels, the cap was a non-starter. Notley left office without implementing the cap.
Since her term on OSAG, Berman seems to have renounced the notion that co-operation/collusion with industry is the best way forward.
Smart move.

"Whittingham never opposed the Trans Mountain pipeline"

On the contrary. Unlike Berman, "clean-energy expert" and unwavering industry collaborator Ed Whittingham loudly supports the Trans Mtn expansion project. He even wrote an op-ed boosting the project in the Globe & Mail with talking points lifted straight from CAPP.
Whittingham chose to stand on the other side of the ramparts. His "pragmatic" environmentalism defies the science.

Climate change is a global emergency. The science supports Berman's current position on climate change. Notley, Trudeau, Kenney, Big Oil, and oil industry boosters, including Ed Whittingham, are waging war against the science, the overwhelming evidence, the irrefutable facts, inconvenient truths, and the latest IPCC report.

Thank you Geoffrey Pounder for your steadfast articulation of the facts refuting the constant barrage of spin and propaganda from Big Oil and it's troll army.

The Truth. And its more than inconvenient, uncomfortable or depressing. We have to stop trying to have our cake and eat it too.......but for that tack to amount to real change, we are also going to have to convince more people, not just of the actual science, but of the need for active citizen engagement.

I sometimes fear most of us are too passive, inarticulate and afraid to act on what we know. But live in hope of being proved wrong. Thanks for speaking....our collective future depends on more of us doing the same.

But at least we now know that Oil and Gas apologists aren't going to willingly cooperate with government, unless they can persuade that government to institute changes so minor as to be greenwash. I hope the NDP have learned a valuable lesson, because our royalties and tarsands cap aside, they provided some of the best government Alberta has ever experienced....including doing a great deal to jump start the green industries like solar and wind.

I hope that in our criticism of Noteley's plans, we don't go all purist, and end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The quickest way to defeat oil and gas is to spend less time rhetorically arguing with the brainstems still defending that industry........and more time transitioning wherever and however we can.

Building some environmental solidarity would be good to. To that end, lets' stand with Tseporah.

Apart from other things, there are still serious questions sill un-answered about the quality of workmanship that we can expect on these projects - and in particular when TransCanada Pipelines Inc. (TCPL) and their sub-contractors are doing the work. I'm referring in particular to all phases of Keystone and Keystone XL - and also Energy East, if that project is revived. Anybody familiar with what has been going on will likely be aware of the Evan Vokes affair and TCPL's dismissal of him for doing his job right; he uncovered many problems which the company ignored and as far as I can see we don't have proof from TCPL that they have learned properly from their own mistakes and that they won't repeat mistakes such as what Evan Vokes uncovered. This needs looking into.

Robert T. Chisholm - Associate Member, OSPE

And I have it all documented, so there is no argument about the facts. Bad workmanship and improperly conducted onsite inspections during construction by TCPL and their sub-contractors has led to some pipeline failures and major leaks. The risk of more leaks, at least from newly-constructed pipelines, will continue until we have satisfactory proof that TCPL have improved their management practices sufficiently. Hidden defects in existing TCPL pipelines also continue to represent potential hazards.

Reference: https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/former-transcanada-engin...

This 2017 report about Evan Vokes should be evidence enough, in itself, to justify investigating TransCanada Pipelines in the way that I outlined before.

Robert T. Chisholm - Associate Member, OSPE

So does NOBODY have any comment about what I said earlier?

Robert T. Chisholm - Associate Member, OSPE