Vivian Krause’s conspiracy narrative cannot withstand serious scrutiny
At the Saturday premiere of her so-called documentary on US funding of Canadian anti-pipeline activists, Over a Barrel, Vivian Krause was asked if her research was peer-reviewed. “No,” she replied. What she didn’t tell the audience was just how far below that academic standard her work actually is.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has inaccurately called Krause a journalist, presumably based on her op-eds being published in Postmedia newspapers, which hardly qualifies her as a journalist. The core of the journalist process is on-the-record interviews and verification of facts. She undertakes none of the former and little of the latter, essentially invalidating any claim to be a reporter.
If Krause isn’t a peer-reviewed researcher or a journalist, what is she?
At the heart of Alberta’s “foreign-funded activist” narrative is inferior research
The quality of Krause’s research is an issue because the Jason Kenney government has committed millions of taxpayer dollars to an energy war room and a public inquiry into anti-Alberta activism based solely on her decade or so of combing IRS databases for evidence of payments from American foundations to Canadian environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs). Furthermore, the Alberta-based oil and gas industry has seized upon her conspiracy narrative as evidence that Canadian pipeline projects are being unfairly opposed, causing catastrophic economic effects for the provincial economy.
“Thanks in a large part to the research of Vivian Krause, we know that the foreign-funded ‘Tar Sands’ campaign has links to bills C-69 and C-48, which are detrimental to the interests of Alberta’s responsible energy sector,” Alberta energy minister Sonya Savage said in a June release about the energy war room. “Our Energy War Room will be a platform to amplify what has been uncovered by research from Ms. Krause, and other industry stakeholders who have been on the front lines of the effort to combat the misinformation about Alberta’s energy.”
There is, in fact, no evidence the Kenney government looked to any sources other than Krause before declaring, inaccurately, that tens of thousands of jobs were destroyed by activists like Tzeporah Berman.
There is also no evidence that the government vetted or verified Krause’s work before committing $30 million for the war room and $2.5 million for the inquiry, an extraordinary circumstance for a government committed to cutting education and social services funding in pursuit of a balanced budget. In fact, Kenney and the United Conservative Party committed to Krause’s narrative well over a year ago, long before the April election.
How Krause arrived at her controversial conclusions matters
Peer review is just what it sounds like: evaluation of scientific, academic, or professional research by others working in the same field. This is the gold standard for research and it’s applied at reputable journals and publishers by respected experts in their field.
Instead of peer-reviewed publications, Krause published her work on her blog and in op-eds in the conservative National Post and other Postmedia newspapers, which rarely ask writers to verify the information backing up their opinions. She also testified before various Senate committees, where she espoused some of her most outlandish theories and made allegations that were lapped up by senators. Her research was also never questioned by a fawning media, including TV host Wendy Mesley and the CBC.
The source of almost all her information appears to be online IRS databases that access reports and some correspondence the American government requires tax-exempt organizations like charities to file annually. This is public information. Give Krause her due, assembling the information took plenty of work, which is one of the reasons why journalists like me were loath to follow in her footsteps. Who has the time and resources these days to verify that much information?
For almost a decade, Krause had the field to herself, free from scrutiny.
Then, on May 14, Energi Media published my deep dive based on interviews (recorded for accuracy) with 15 ENGOs that were part of the Tar Sands Campaign and three experts on social movement organizations, review of select ENGO publicly available financial statements, and foreign funding data provided by several of the larger ENGOs, like Green Peace Canada. Think of my investigative report as being downstream of Krause’s data, the ENGOS who received the money.
On October 3, the National Observer published Sandy Garossino’s analysis about how the US foundations and charities actually transferred funds to those ENGOs. Think of this report as being upstream of Krause’s data, the American charities who provided the money.
In the middle is Krause with IRS data that has limited value without context from the upstream and downstream. Without knowing how American foundations provided funds and how Canadians ENGOs spent them, Krause’s conclusions cannot be take seriously.
Krause simply doesn’t understand how foundations work
A credible researcher or journalist would have followed up with the US foundations to verify how and why they granted money to the 50 to 100 Canadian ENGOs in the Tar Sands Campaign. Krause does not appear to have done that, aside from referencing publicly available information. To be fair, the foundations are not forthcoming with that information. They did not respond to Energi Media’s interview requests and the occasional statements they have provided to other Canadian media have been terse and short on detail.
This forced Krause to seize upon scraps of evidence wherever she could find them, in application forms or covering letters, for instance, or Tar Sands Campaign Powerpoint presentations that she found on the Internet. Without background and context, however, Krause was free to arrive at her own fanciful interpretation of the documents.
For instance, she claimed that the US foundations started and quarterbacked the Tar Sands Campaign.
This argument is at the core of her conspiracy narrative, which she spices up by occasionally hinting that the motive was landlocking Alberta oil, leading in turn to steep price discounts that benefited American refiners and consumers. Berman and the ENGOs, however, told a very different story about the campaign’s origins that includes two years of meetings between Canadian First Nations and indigenous communities, scientists, and environmental groups before the launch of the informal coalition in 2008. Not only were Canadians the active agents of the campaign, according to Energi Media sources, but Canadian donors also provided 85 per cent to 95 per cent of the funding.
This is why Garossino’s report is so important. How the American foundations operate, what they can and cannot (or will not) do, is central to Krause’s narrative. Garossino is a lawyer and former Crown prosecutor in British Columbia, so getting the legal and administrative aspects right is part of her training and experience. In addition, she spent nine months combing Candid, “America’s most comprehensive foundation and charitable monitoring site,” tracking the flow of funds from US charities to Canadian ENGOs.
As an example of Garossino’s findings, consider her analysis of the role played in the Tar Sands Campaign by the Tides Foundation, the arch-villain of Krause’s narrative. “According to tax documents filed with the IRS, Tides Foundation funded the Tsleil-Wauteuth First Nation specifically ‘to stop and oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project,’” Krause wrote in the Financial Post earlier this year.
Garossino says the Tides Foundation doesn’t work that way. Charities like the Rockefellers Foundation disperse funds through “donor-advised funds,” which essentially function as banks for a variety of charities, providing cost-effective administrative and other services to the grantors.
“DAFs are employed where funding is pooled from multiple foundations or sources, for time-limited initiatives, or to avoid the prohibitive cost of setting up a standalone charity,” she writes. “If your employer pays you out of their RBC account, does that make you RBC-funded? That’s basically the extent of Tides relationship to the Tar Sands Campaign.”
Many other examples from Garossino’s report demonstrate that the foundation funding system does not work as Krause believes. If the former nutritionist and farm salmon PR manager had consulted or interviewed experts in order to understand this complex legal and administrative framework, she might have avoided numerous errors.
Krause wrong about the Canadian ENGOs, too
The important point here is that Krause appears not to have verified her interpretations of the US funding grants with the actual recipients. Here is a response from Tides Canada – who at Energi Media’s request combed through emails going back to 2014 – about their contacts with Krause.
“Although in one email I found she asked questions about where the funding went, for the overwhelming majority, she would simply list a whole bunch of info she had collected, and then ask for us to reply and confirm it was correct,” communications manager Alison Henning wrote in a May 3 email.
Berman, who administered the Tar Sands Campaign after 2011, says that Krause’s interactions her with bordered on harassment and she had to refuse comment to the Vancouver-based blogger.
“I’m sure she’s contacted me many times. In the beginning, I answered her questions. Then I started realizing that the questions are so warped,” Berman said in a May 9 interview. “She doesn’t stop. She tries to take up all of our time. She tries to warp information to make it look as though, you know, it’s bigger than we are.”
Does this sound like a rational, process-oriented researcher? Or is Krause more like an activist who stumbled upon data – which is actually what happened, by her own admission – and cherry-picked facts to craft a narrative designed to appeal to her oil and gas audience?
Krause’s intractable problem with measuring effect of Tar Sands Campaign
Krause’s conspiracy narrative has a fatal flaw: she cannot prove that US foundation funding of the Tar Sands Campaign influenced Canadian pipeline delays and cancellations. Even drawing a straight line from anti-pipeline activism to government, regulator, or project proponent actions is impossible. Pipelines are massive multi-year infrastructure projects that involve innumerable actors from communities in various provinces to the federal government in Ottawa.
Activist groups like Berman’s Stand or the Dogwood Initiative or West Coast Environmental Law are just a few voices in a cacophony both for and against a project. Would cutting off US foundation funding silence those voices? A number of ENGOs told me that American funding could be replaced by non-US international charities or by Canadian donors.
Krause avoids her critics
Krause refused to be interviewed for my deep dive. She did agree to answer written questions, but did not follow through with her commitment. Since the deep dive was published, she has ignored many requests to explain and defend her work and conclusions.
That is not the behaviour of a credible researcher. Even if she believes Energi Media is biased in its reporting of her work – I have consistently criticized Krause since 2016 – she has plenty of venues in which to refute me.
For instance, Krause will not address a question that goes to the heart of her Tar Sands Campaign narrative. US funding of the campaign declined after former Premier Rachel Notley introduced the Climate Leadership Plan because, according to Berman and Garossino’s research, because once Alberta had a credible climate policy framework, their objectives were satisfied. Krause has never acknowledged that the funding fell from an average of $4 million a year to $1 million or less by 2019.
If she didn’t know this information, that is an indictment of her research skills. If she did know but chose to withhold the information, that is a serious ethical failure. Which is it? Or, if there is a reasonable answer, why not provide it?
Panel moderator Ryan Jespersen, 630CHED radio host, asked the question above at the premiere and Krause was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, according to Danielle Paradis, an Edmonton freelance reporter who covered the event for Energi Media.
In July, Jespersen asked if I would debate Krause on his show. I readily agreed. Krause never even responded to his request.
The pattern has become clear: Krause likes to ask “fair questions,” as she calls them, but she is not willing to answer fair but uncomfortable questions from journalists. Credible researchers defend their work, they don’t hide from critics.
Vivian Krause makes numerous mistakes about how American foundations work and the role they played in the Tar Sands Campaign, has not verified with Canadian ENGOs that the US funding was spent as she alleges, and cannot demonstrate that the funding had any of the impacts on Canadian pipeline projects that she claims.
Her conspiracy narrative is disproved and discredited, and Premier Jason Kenney appears to have bought a very large barrel of snake oil.