Friends of Science audit released

By Jon Roe

The University of Calgary has discontinued its relationship with the controversial Friends of Science organization and, after the results of an internal audit released Mon., Apr. 14, the U of C will revise policies related to research funding. But the audit did not determine whether funding from two trust funds at the university for an anti-Kyoto ad campaign was in violation of the Canada Elections Act.

The Friends of Science is a Calgary-based organization that questions the science behind the Kyoto protocol and argues that the sun is the prime driver behind global warming.

The audit was released Mon., Apr. 14 after a request filed Feb., 12 by Canwest News Service under the Freedom of Information and Privacy act which asked to review the funding and expenditure of two U of C trust accounts.

The Friends were previously funded via two trust accounts set up at the U of C by political science professor Barry Cooper and the Science Education Fund, a fund set up at the Calgary Foundation under the University of Calgary’s name.

“We had sufficient concerns last year to sever any relationship with Friends of Science,” said U of C provost Alan Harrison in a press release. “That decision has not changed.”

The two accounts are now closed. Individuals can still make donations to the Science Education Fund through the Calgary Foundation’s online donation form, but the Friends have removed any reference to the fund from their quarterly newsletters.

Funding to the two trust accounts totalled $507,975, $182,875 of which was from individuals and corporations who received tax-deductible donation receipts, according to the audit.

Cooper’s name was removed from the audit under a section of the FOIP act designed to protect personal privacy, but in Nov., Friends vice-president Eric Loughead identified Cooper as the lead researcher with the video project.

According to the audit, Cooper was approached by representatives of the Friends who were interested in collaborating with him on a video research project about climate change. Cooper applied for two trust accounts in the fall of 2004 to fund the video project.

The first version of the Friends’ video contained the U of C crest, which was removed after the university sent a letter requiring the Friends to discontinue use of the U of C’s name or logo. According to the audit, the U of C was unaware that the logo would be used on the video, contrary to an assertion made by Loughead.

“That was our information from Barry Cooper, he said that he had clearance from the [U of C] legal people to do that,” Loughead told the Gauntlet in Nov.

The University Audit Services started the audit after an unnamed private citizen brought concerns to the university about the U of C’s involvement with the Friends. The audit focused on four allegations: that the U of C was a conduit for funding for the Friends via Cooper’s trust accounts, that the Friends ran an anti-Kyoto radio ad campaign funded indirectly or directly through Cooper’s trusts during the last federal election, which violated rules for third-party advertisers in the Canada Election Act and the activities of the Friends funded by the trusts were not legitimate scientific research and were funded by anonymous donors. The fourth allegation was severed from the released report under sections of the privacy act governing disclosure harmful to business interests of a third party and disclosure of advice or recommendations developed by the university.

Other parts of the released version of the audit were removed because they may interfere with or harm an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

The audit was unable to determine whether the video called Climate Catastrophe Cancelled video was a legitimate project and that there was collaboration between Cooper and the Friends of Science because there wasn’t an agreement between the U of C and the Friends outlining the terms of their relationship.

The audit also couldn’t conclusively say that the research undertaken with funding from the two trust accounts set up by Cooper at the U of C was legitimate, but added that there is no evidence that the Climate Catastrophe video was “not based on an intellectually honest search for knowledge.”

Cooper explained to the auditors that the video’s objective was educational and not political. The original version of the Climate Catastrophe Cancelled video included archived footage from Canadian Parliament sessions featuring members of the Liberal and NDP party yelling about the dangers of climate change and according to Loughead, the Friends weren’t too happy with this introduction.

“We admit the way it was structured originally√ā¬≠–because the political science department at the U of C was behind it–there was a strong political element that we weren’t too happy with,” said Loughead.

The audit recommends several changes to the way the U of C funds research projects and identifies political activities. U of C management says they agree to all of the recommendations in the audit and has a set a timeline for implementation.

The audit was unable to determine whether the ads ran during the 2005 federal election campaign are considered third-party advertising, but noted that participation in political activities must be identified on a tax form by the university. Currently there is no process to identify and track expenditures on political activities at the U of C for tax-reporting purposes.

Elections Canada has been asked by contributors to the website and the DeSmogBlog to investigate the third-party election campaign allegations. Elections Canada requires advertisers who promote or oppose candidates or issues associated with specific parties during an election campaign to register with the Chief Electoral Officer for that election. The Friends did not register during the 2006 election campaign and maintain that they did not need to register because the ads were booked before the election was called.

Liberal member of Parliament for Ottawa South David McGuinty raised the Friends of Science and the third-party election campaign funding issue in the House of Commons during question period Tue., Apr. 15.

McGuinty noted that Cooper is a good friend of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and of another U of C political science professor, Tom Flanagan, who was Harper’s campaign manager during the 2006 election.

“Mr. Cooper was the head of the Friends of Science, a group being investigating for defrauding the University of Calgary by circulating anti-Kyoto ads during the last election campaign,” McGuinty said. “What did the government offer in exchange for Barry Cooper’s help during the last election campaign?”

Minister of the environment John Baird dismissed McGuinty’s question as part of a made-up scandal. McGuinty alleged that the Friends are now advising Baird on his climate change policy and that Baird oversaw the Friends’ ad campaign that ran during the election.

“Mr. Speaker, blah, blah, blah,” said Baird. “The member for Ottawa Centre puts on his tinfoil hat and develops these great theories. There are two reasons why this government is in office. One is the leadership of the Prime Minister of Canada and the other is because of the support of the Liberal Party of Canada.”

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