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  • Oil Ethics
  • Sheena Wilson (bio)
Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands. Ezra Levant. McClelland & Stewart. http://www.mcclelland.com. 261 pages; cloth, $29.99; paper, $17.95; eBook, $13.99.

Ezra Levant's Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands is an example of the current neoliberal perspective that pervades mainstream media and argues in support of oil sands development in Alberta. Levant is a Canadian journalist, political commentator, and lawyer. Various complaints have been brought against him—most notably the human rights complaint for publishing the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in 2006. Again, in September 2010, Sun Media published a retraction about the "false statements" Levant made when he "offered his opinion of how Mr. [George] Soros...survived the Nazis." In November 2011, an Ontario Supreme Court judgment ordered Levant to pay $25,000 in damages for failing to check facts and defaming another lawyer, concluding that with a larger political aim of denormalizing and discrediting Human Rights Commissions generally, Levant did not follow responsible journalistic practices.

Levant's argument in Ethical Oil is a sophistic rendition of reality that reframes the debates around the oil sands. In order to deflect attention away from multiple environmental issues, Levant refocuses the spotlight on Canada's status as a liberal democracy with a positive human rights record. He argues that until a "miracle fuel" to replace oil has been invented, Canada remains the optimal source of oil since "the question is whether we should use oil from the oil sands or oil from the other places in the world that pump it"—that is, from places in which oil is politically as well as environmentally dirty. Concern for human rights is a just cause, if it were not merely a strategy to deflect citizen concerns about the environment. In an interview, Levant explained that when he was unsuccessful "arguing in a right-wing, conservative, property rights, climate skeptic way" about the oil sands, he realized that those opposing him were "do-gooders." In an effort to win a debate with this audience, he decided to "write a liberal defense for the oil sands." The outcome is Ethical Oil.

Levant's audience shifts throughout the book between an American readership, a conservative Canadian readership, and a "fair trade coffee-drinking, Prius-driving, Green Party-voting recycler who dabbles in vegetarianism." Ultimately, Ethical Oil targets readers from across the political spectrum with arguments meant to justify and perpetuate our oil-consuming lifestyles and to convince us to give up environmental concerns by claiming it is more ethical, humanitarian, liberal, and democratic to buy Canadian oil than oil from other regions.

However, Levant's book never defines the parameters of ethical oil or the new Canadian democratic, humanitarian, "unconventional" morality yardstick "that weighs values entirely differently." Instead, he determines oil sands ethics over and against what they are not through his selective representation of data and information. Levant calls Canada a "Boy Scout" nation with an excellent human rights record. For instance, according to him, Canada does not use torture. Among the many criticisms that Levant lobs against Saudi Arabia is a critique of Saudi Arabia's "merciless 'justice,'" in which even "children as young as thirteen have been sentence to more than one thousand lashes." Levant, however, fails to mention his own opposition to support for Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen born in Toronto and arrested at age 15 in Afghanistan. Identified by the United Nations and others as a child soldier, Khadr has been detained for almost a decade and tortured in Guantanamo. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously judged that his human rights were being violated, and yet Khadr remains the only detainee from a western nation not transferred home. In Levant's latest book, The Enemy Within: Terror, Lies and the Whitewashing of Omar Khadr (2012), he argues that Canada should "block Khadr's return"—in spite of his 2010 plea bargain and a high-level diplomatic note signed by Hillary Clinton which promised that Canada would "favourably consider" Khadr's repatriation as early as October 2011.

Levant also undermines Aboriginal human rights concerns and women's rights issues linked to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-4578
Print ISSN
0149-9408
Pages
pp. 8-9
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-05
Open Access
No
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