America over a barrel

As an ethical source of oil imports, Canada stands alone


Last Updated: September 14, 2010 2:00am

While many North Americans may be aware of the financial and environmental price we pay for a litre of gas or a barrel of oil, Sun Media columnist Ezra Levant argues that it is time we consider ethical factors as well. In his new book Ethical Oil, Levant exposes the hypocrisy of the West’s dealings with the reprehensible regimes from which we purchase the oil that sustains our lifestyle.

It’s a fact of life: if Americans don’t fill up their cars with Canadian gasoline, their gas is going to come from another oil-producing country. Even environmentally friendly cars like the Toyota Prius still need to get their gasoline from somewhere.

The oil sands have made democratic, peaceful Canada the number-one source of U.S. oil. But the rest of America’s international oil suppliers are pretty ugly. With few exceptions, the other countries on the top ten list are the world’s dictatorships, human rights abusers, and warmongers.

After Canada, Saudi Arabia is the biggest source of U.S. oil imports. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic feudal state named after the Saudi family that owns it — some seven thousand princes known  for their lavish lifestyles and idleness. For those not lucky enough to be a member of the royal family, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, where the Qur’an is strictly  enforced as the official constitution, where 6.4 million foreign workers are brutalized, and where political dissent is forbidden.

A major sponsor of world terrorism, Saudi Arabia is where Osama bin Laden made his money — and it’s also where 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from. Needless to say, a country that doesn’t value human life doesn’t care much about plants and animals either — environmentalism is the punchline to anti-American jokes in Saudi Arabia, not a pillar of its oil industry. This fascist theocracy shipped 551 million barrels of oil to the United States last year.

In third place is Mexico, nominally a democracy but a democracy with endemic human rights abuses and corruption. It sold barrels to the United States last year.

Venezuela, run by socialist strongman Hugo Chavez, is next, followed by corrupt Nigeria, strife-torn Iraq, undemocratic Angola, and torture-loving Algeria. The world’s nastiest regimes, like Iran and Sudan, can’t legally sell oil to the United States directly because of economic sanctions. But with major oil consumers like China and Japan taking up the slack, those sanctions are essentially meaningless. Moreover, for every barrel of oil that doesn’t come out of the oil sands, another barrel must come from somewhere else. The less oil that comes from Alberta, the better it is for every other exporter in the world, including Iran and Sudan.

The list of countries that export oil to the United States is a rogues’ gallery. But the rankings of the world’s oil reserves — a good predictor of where oil is going to come from in the future — is even worse. Out of the top ten countries with the largest reserves, Canada is the only liberal democracy, other than the fledgling democracy of Iraq. There’s no way to avoid the conclusion that oil comes from the world’s worst places, and there’s no reason to expect that to change.

It’s one thing to condemn Canada’s oil sands and to publish ugly photos of them. But for ethical oil consumers, unless there’s a better alternative, demonizing Canadian oil isn’t just useless — it can be counterproductive, by driving consumers into the hands of oil producers who are worse by every ethical measure.

That’s exactly what happened in February 2010, when an anti–oil sands lobby group called ForestEthics persuaded two retail giants to direct their suppliers to use non–oil sands oil.

Michael Besancon, senior vice-president of the fashionable supermarket chain Whole Foods, declared that “fuel that comes from tar sands refineries does not fit our values.”

According to ForestEthics, Whole Foods “eliminated tar sands-linked fuel at one of its distribution centres and committed … to replace all fuel supplies connected with Canada’s tar sands.”

And Bed Bath & Beyond, another international retailer, “has agreed to make the tar sands an issue in the bidding process it follows for selecting transportation providers.”

OK, but given that two out of every three barrels of oil in the United States is imported, where should Bed Bath & Beyond insist its truckers buy their oil from? And is it even possible for truckers to know where fuel from a particular gas station comes from? If scoring political points against the oil sands is your goal, coming up with a practical answer to that question isn’t important. But if your goal is to genuinely buy morally superior oil, the question remains unanswered.

According to press reports, Whole Foods switched some of its oil purchases to Marathon Oil, a U.S.–based company. But while Marathon does indeed pump a lot of oil from the United States, it also owns a 20% stake in a major oil sands development — and it operates in dictatorships like Equatorial Guinea and Libya. Does that “fit” Whole Foods’ values?

It’s an important question to ask because critics of Canada’s oil sands complain that the oil isn’t just environmentally dirty but somehow has moral failures, that it is inherently evil. It’s an attempt to denormalize the oil sands, to make them so morally repugnant that any debate about them is over before it starts.

But if we were to stop oil sands development, as ForestEthics demands we do, where would the oil come from?

Canada would have enough oil for itself from conventional Canadian oil fields, but what about America?

Canada is one of the most hospitable places in the world to live, offering democracy, a stalwart commitment to the rule of law, and economic freedom. There is no torture, no slavery, no state-sanctioned rape, no murdered journalists. It’s the country that gave the world UN peacekeeping. No one in their right mind would suggest that in a comparison of countries around the world that Canada isn’t a leader in moral behaviour.

There is a reason that a quarter-million immigrants, from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia, settle in Canada every year and hundreds of thousands more wish they could. Canadian values are the very embodiment of the thing we call ethics: the moral codes chosen freely by free people.

Like every other country, Canada can always improve its human rights record. But on every key measure, from women’s rights, to gay rights, to Aboriginal rights, to the sharing of the oil wealth equitably among workers, to environmental protection, Canada is hands down the most ethical major exporter of oil in the world.

And yet, today Canada finds itself being accused of severe immorality. A country that has been a leader in ethical leadership is suddenly cast as a “criminal” or “unethical” for the way it produces its energy. It lacks “moral vision and leadership.”

How can this be? Has the world been wrong about Canadian values all along? Was Canada’s ethical leadership on the world stage not the product of a humanitarian and liberal worldview but an accident just waiting to be spoiled by the corrupting  influence of oil? Or is it possible that Canada’s approach to energy is being measured by an entirely different yardstick: an unconventional version of “morality” that weighs values entirely differently?

The accusations of those who fight Canada’s energy industry so fiercely are so out of sync with the reality of the Canada the world has known for centuries, so illogical, that it’s worth asking — actually, it’s critical to ask — whether there might be something else behind those attacks.

Because, as it turns out, there is.

Excerpted from Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands by Ezra Levant. Copyright 2010. Published by McClelland & Stewart Limited.

Saudi Arabia’s merciless justice

If Saudi Arabia didn’t exist, it would take a science-fiction writer in an apocalyptic mood to invent it. Saudi women are treated as the property of men, with fewer rights than children and only slightly more rights than animals. They are forbidden from driving cars; they cannot travel abroad without a man’s permission; and they can’t even have elective surgery without their master’s consent.

That doesn’t sound like Whole Foods’ values, does it?

Men have it better in Saudi Arabia, of course, but Allah help them if they’re gay, or even eccentric. An international group called Human Rights Watch has documented men being arrested and flogged for wearing women’s clothing. In a medieval theocracy like the Saudis,’ such heresy is a crime, the crime of “suspicious behaviour” and “imitating women.” And, according to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia executes gays simply for being gay. Amnesty has documented this barbaric punishment, carried out in full medieval style: a beheading and a crucifixion.

Even children are not spared Saudi Arabia’s merciless “justice.” Teenaged “criminals” are beheaded with swords in the public square; children as young as thirteen have been sentenced to more than one thousand lashes.

Question: How many press releases do you think ForestEthics has sent out about the ethics of Saudi oil? If you guessed zero, you’re right. Too bad — not only could Saudi Arabia’s endangered forests use the help, but its women and children could too.



  1. Hi CK,
    Here is a clip about boycotting Islam. VodPod doesn’t support clips from the site it was posted on so I embedded it on my sister site. Makes sense to me. Feel free to link to it here if you wish and BTW feel free to link, re-post, edit and re-post or email link on any content on my sites. Anyhow, take a look see.


    Bob A.

  2. Guys, who do we call write etc to let the politicians know we are unhappy aobout this. Your hard earned tax dollars are going to Pakistan. Christians and all other Infidels in Pakistan are not receiving the aid we are sending. Instead muslims are forcing people to converto to Islam if they want the aid. I can’t take this anymore.

    • You’d call your local MP (Member of Parliment), start a petition if you can and gather as many signatures as possible. Send it and a formal letter to your MP demanding it be brought up in session. The more people who do this the more it will show our politicians that we mean business and that their votes from us are riding on it. I feel the same way, I’m tired of watching our politicians pander to their whims…I’d rather see my taxes go towards those in our society here at home, rather than towards an already known terrorist hot spot who has already abused our generosity more than once…

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