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Workers operate an oil-sands rig near Fort McMurray, Alta, in September of 2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Workers operate an oil-sands rig near Fort McMurray, Alta, in September of 2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

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Why would Canadians hide the ethics of their oil? Add to ...

Canadians haven’t dedicated themselves to creating a nation that upholds the world’s highest standards of human rights, a country with unparalleled protection in business for workers and the environment, just so we can feel awkward about it. When you’ve strived to build a country and society built upon liberal democratic values with a higher ethical standard, why hide it?

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In an op-ed last week, Martha Hall Findlay proudly asserted that “our democracy, with our stable government, human rights and rule of law is better” than “other places.” She’s not shy about saying this, and we agree. But we disagree with her central thesis: We think Canadians should be proud of the ethical oil their industry produces and shouldn't shy away from calling it such. Ethical oil doesn’t come only from Canada; there are other oil producers in the world who also uphold high ethical standards, including the United States, Britain and Norway. But Canada is the only liberal democracy on the top-10 list of countries with the largest proven oil reserves.

By asserting that choosing Canadian oil is choosing ethical oil, who might we offend? It’s clear the Saudis are offended: Last year their lawyers bullied several Canadian broadcasters into refusing to air an ad from our organization. That advertisement urged North Americans to consider choosing a source of oil more ethical than the Saudi crude we presently import.

Perhaps the aggressive backlash from the petulant, illiberal Saudi royal family has unsettled some. But Canadians need never apologize for being proud of their ethical record. If the Saudi rulers are uncomfortable with the yawning chasm that exists between our ethics and theirs, the remedy is for the Saudis to close the gap by taking human rights seriously. They can start with respecting and liberating women, gays or religious minorities. More than 500 years have passed since the medieval era – the Saudis have had ample time to start catching up with more contemporary values.

Consumers in North America need to know they have a choice in what kind of oil they use. The United States in particular, our largest customer, must be made aware that every barrel of Canadian oil blocked at the border by anti-oil sands activists means more money for the world’s most odious, intolerant regimes. At a time when North American consumers increasingly want to know about the farms on which their food was raised, and the working conditions in factories that manufacture their iPads, it’s important they know the truth about the places that make their oil.

Canada's high environmental standards are part of what makes our oil ethical, and those involved in the industry, government and civil society work hard every day to improve our environmental record. The oil-sands industry has slashed greenhouse-gas emissions intensity by a third in the last 20 years. The federal and Alberta governments have recently announced a better environmental monitoring system. Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance is the latest example of the untiring crusade to lessen the industry's impact on the environment and develop our resource responsibly. It's what Canadians expect. We can look back at Canada's successes as efforts continue to improve in the future. We cannot however, expect this type of effort from nations uninterested in even a basic level of dignity for all their citizens.

Canada’s ethical principles and rights-based approach are praiseworthy, and Canadians have done a tremendous job building for ourselves a peaceful, democratic and prosperous society.

Let us not be nervous about celebrating this. Canada produces ethical oil. If we genuinely believe in the justice and virtue of the values we practice, then it is incumbent on us to promote them. We should choose ethical oil for our energy needs, and shine a spotlight on heinous human rights and environmental records in oil producing nations not meeting our standards.

Jordan Graham is national spokesperson for EthicalOil.org

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