Canadian Conservative acolyte Alykhan Velshi made headlines last month with a set of bombastic ads contrasting the virtues of Canada’s “ethical oil” with the evils of “conflict oil countries.” Leading political heavyweights — including Environment Minister Peter Kent — have also adopted the mantra. But a look behind the latest “ethical oil” campaign raises a number of ethical questions about Velshi himself.
First, he lied. The Globe and Mail reported (based on Velshi’s assertion, I suppose) that one of the most shocking photos in the set “is a woman being stoned in Iran in the late 1970s.” That’s not true. In fact, the woman shown is actress Smadar Monsinos, a resident of Amsterdam. The photo is a still from the short 1994 Dutch indy film “De Steen” by Mahnaz Tamizi. The blog Sadly No made this discovery in 2007 after the photo began appearing in posters promoting David Horowitz’s “Islamo-Faschism Awareness Week.”
Velshi also exploited. Adjacent to Ms. Monsinos is a photo of a beaming Melissa Blake, Mayor of Wood Buffalo, Alberta. Asked recently whether she was consulted about her portrayal in the ads, she replied “I was never even asked!!! I’m not at all pleased about it. I cringe when I see it.”
He also stole. At least three of the other photos in the set were taken by internationally recognized photographers and used without permission. The Nigeria photo was taken by Ed Kashi, an award-winning photojournalist. The Darfur photo was taken in 2004 by Lynsey Addario, one of the world’s leading photojournalists. A true hero, she was one of three journalists held captive for six days in Libya earlier this year. Agents for both photographers confirmed in a phone interview last week that they are considering taking legal action against the illegal use of the photographs. And while the the agent for Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John Moore was unavailable, I’m betting his Saudi Arabia photo was also stolen.
The tar sands lobby is lying to us. I’m no ethicist, but representing fiction as fact, exploiting public figures, and stealing intellectual property seems pretty wrong to me. It’s wrong like setting up fake Twitter accounts is wrong. Like spreading misinformation on oil prices and mid-east oil imports is wrong. But that’s their game plan: label tar sands opponents as terrorists and strong-arm the President into locking the US and Canada into the dead-end energy strategy of boiling oil from sand.
Please join us this month as we demand action from President Obama to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.