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Douglas Channel, the proposed shipping route for oil tanker ships in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, is pictured in an aerial view just south of Kitimat, B.C., on Tuesday January 10, 2012.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Environment Minister Peter Kent's unsupported accusations of "money laundering" involving foreign and Canadian environmental charities are part of an apparent campaign of the Conservative government to smear and intimidate groups opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Mr. Kent's accusation in Parliament and media interviews, and the pattern they are a part of, suggest the government is improperly taking sides between the environment and business – trying to discredit those who raise environmental concerns in a public-hearing process mandated under federal law.

This pipeline may well prove a financial boon to Canada, but there are legitimate environmental concerns that need to be heard, including the danger of oil spills in environmentally sensitive waters. The pipeline will take bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., before it is loaded on ships bound for Asia. Business and the environment do not exist on two separate planes, where one matters and the other doesn't.

The Environment Minister has accused unnamed environmental charities of criminal activity, and yet provides no specifics, except to point to the work of Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton. "There is political manipulation," she said. "There is influence peddling. There are millions of dollars crossing borders masquerading as charitable foundations into bank accounts of sometimes phantom charities that do nothing more than act as a fiscal clearing house." There is paranoia, there is partisanship, there are wild allegations. But evidence? No.

The Conservative smear campaign started when Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, on the eve of environmental hearings into Gateway, wrote a public letter flaying "environmental and other radical groups" who "use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest." Later, the Conservatives found $8-million for Revenue Canada to do extra audits and other compliance work with the charitable sector, focused on political activity and foreign sources of funds. And now Mr. Kent says foreign environmental charities are "laundering" money through Canadian charities.

Charities give money outside of national boundaries – so what? Canada even offers tax credits to Canadians who donate money to certain overseas charities. Religious, cultural, relief and, yes, environmental charities, all operate over borders. An environmental disaster on Canada's West Coast would concern people outside of Canada, especially Americans. If there is anything nefarious here, it is hard to see what it is. The only nefarious thing in sight at the moment is a government bent on quashing a legitimate debate.