Oil and blood: Canada’s genocide connection

by Jeremy Klaszus

I first learned that Talisman Energy was being sued for complicity in genocide in 2005. At the time, I was working as a j-school intern for Fast Forward Weekly, an alternative weekly paper in Calgary.  I read some of the recent court documents for the case and realized it was an important and compelling story about a Calgary company — a story no one else in the city was telling.

Talisman’s Sudan venture began in 1998 and was controversial, to say the least. The company took a beating from human rights activists, who called for Talisman to pull out of the war-torn country. When Talisman did exit Sudan in 2003, the company clearly wanted to put the experience behind it.  Seemingly, so did the Alberta media.

But despite the pull out, Talisman could not escape the past. It was targeted by a lawsuit filed in 2001 by Sudanese refugees and the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, alleging that Talisman collaborated with the Sudanese government to displace civilians. The suit dragged on for years without going to trial, but during that time, a slew of evidence was brought forward and made public in court. Still, no one reported on it. Newspapers ran mostly wire stories, seemingly afraid to do original reporting and risk offending a major oil patch player. At this point, I was now an intern at Alberta Views magazine, and I decided to look into the situation.

I investigated not only the lawsuit itself, but also why no one else in the province was reporting on the case even though many of the necessary documents were readily available online.  In addition, I asked the plaintiff’s lawyer in Philadelphia to send me documents unavailable online.  I also filed an Access to Information request with the federal government for memos regarding the Talisman lawsuit. I only received one of the memos, which was frustrating because a Toronto Star reporter had received access to both documents.  Despite my repeated insistence that the second memo had already been released and did, in fact, exist, I was never able to get my hands on it. Thankfully, that memo was not essential to my story.

I double- and triple-checked all my facts, and a lawyer for the magazine reviewed the story as well.  When the magazine hit the stands, it was extremely rewarding to know we were on solid ground because I had done all the necessary legwork.

The magazine got a handful of positive letters in response to the story. A shortened version of the story was published in the online news magazine, The Tyee, provoking a lot of comments.

Naturally, we offered Talisman a chance to respond to the story in the next issue of Alberta Views.  Before the story actually broke, the company agreed to comment but then decided against doing so once the story came out.

Several months later, in September of 2006, the lawsuit was thrown out because there wasn’t enough evidence.  Somewhat ironically, that story made the front page of the Calgary Herald—the same paper that wouldn’t touch the story while the lawsuit was ongoing.

Read “Big Oil on Trial”