In early September, I was going through my email inbox reading and deleting the crazy amount of newsletters I’ve subscribed to (note to self: stop subscribing to so many) when a familiar name popped out from my screen.
Vivian Krause, lobbyist, writer and researcher in Canada (and Alberta) is known for her association with the United Conservative Party. Krause had recently been named as the inspiration for the Alberta government’s notorious inquiry into environmental activists and organizations opposed to the oil sands. That move was criticized by Amnesty International, by the way.
I remember thinking – “that can’t be right.” But when I clicked through to the IABC website, I was taken aback to see not only was it true, but her keynote presentation was described in this way:
“Her international experience and expertise in the charitable sector enables her to think outside the barrel to expose and explain the anti-pipeline activism that is paralyzing Alberta and threatening to tear Canada apart. Her research has changed the national conversation on activism and shown the power of data to get people’s attention.”
Now, I know it’s pretty common practice for speakers to provide their own descriptions of their presentations. But, writing in the third person, it makes it sound like IABC is endorsing a political opinion. Can you imagine the same organization allowing a description for an environmentalist that claimed the “fossil fuel industry lobby is paralyzing Alberta and threatening to tear Canada apart.” No, I didn’t think so either.
So, I also know that IABC relies largely on volunteers and it is possible that no one had time or bothered to edit it. However, as an organization representing professional communicators, let’s just say that excuse falls a little flat.
Not an endorsement
After contacting the Chair of the Canada West with my concerns and sharing a couple of links to further information about Ms. Krause, I received this reply (excerpted here):
“As an organization/conference, we’re not endorsing Vivian’s point of view, but highlighting her use of research in telling a powerful story that is currently captivating the political, environmental and social agendas.
Know that this is not her standard presentation, and was tailored to speak to our communications professionals in Banff.
Suffice it to say that I see this as – “thanks for your concern but we’re going ahead anyway.”
The conference chair provided two bullet points provided by Ms. Krause about her presentation that sealed it for me:
Have the courage to say what needs to be said
This is about citizenship, about not looking the other way when something falls in your lap
If Ms. Krause is positioning herself as someone speaking, “truth to power” then I felt I had no option but to go over the chair’s head to the head office in San Francisco. I replied to the chair “we absolutely require people who have the courage to say what needs to be said (which is why I raised this concern) and I will not look the other way.”
My history with IABC
Before I go any further, let me explain that I have been a member of IABC for more than 30 years. I received my accreditation in 1999 and was a founding member of the Fort McMurray chapter. Over the years, especially earlier in my career, I volunteered in almost every board position for several different chapters in Alberta. I’ve received a Gold Quill Award of Excellence, delivered courses for the organization, mentored new communicators, judged and organized judging for awards, as well as serving as an accreditation adjudicator.
In the last few years, I’ve not been as active, but I still regard the organization as an important indicator of professionalism, considering membership as an asset when hiring and following the code of ethics as a guide.
When the organization almost went under at one point, I was one of 500 members who came forward with a personal financial donation to IABC so they could continue operating (the 500 Club). I have a long history and respect for IABC.
Which is why I find it so extremely disappointing to see such a lack of oversight over the choice of a keynote speaker who is so obviously politically motivated in the midst of a federal election.
I suspected the continued promotion of Ms. Krause’s attack on environmental groups opposed to the oil sands as legitimate research (when it’s clearly not) may even have meant IABC was straying into the realm of trying to influence the election by giving her a platform. And I conveyed this concern to IABC as well.
After I started asking questions, I noticed the inflammatory sentence was removed and a new description was offered:
However, the sentence remained in Ms. Krause’s biography on the IABC website. Next, I contacted the international head office and the chair of the IABC Ethics committee and he seemed to take my concerns more seriously. I included a number of links for more information.
IABC’s Code of Ethics are pretty clear . There is little you can argue with here. The code addresses the importance of honesty, accuracy, sensitivity, citing sources, accepting gifts and payments, and confidentiality. A quick review would raise a number of questions if applied to Vivian Krause’s data and conclusions on the subject of environmental groups. I won’t outline them here one-by-one because others (including Markham Hislop and Sandy Garossino) have covered this territory quite thoroughly.
Markham’s deep dive: https://t.co/4GWq28H9n5?amp=1
It’s worth also noting that IABC goes further than the code of ethics and has established a code of conduct that applies beyond members to anyone attending an IABC sponsored event. This is certainly a sign of how seriously the organization takes bullying, intimidation or harassment.
The goal is to ensure a culture that is safe, supportive and inclusive. The behaviour of Ms. Krause online with her threats of lawsuits, the spreading of rumours and conspiracy theories and her refusal to answer questions about her data and conclusions seems clearly to be in violation of the standards of IABC for professional conduct.
I have reached out to IABC via Twitter a couple of times, just to let them know that time is running out for this mistake to be corrected. The Canada West conference takes place October 27-29 in Banff.
I’ve also suggested as a compromise that the format could be changed to a panel discussion with others offering a balanced view of the data and her conclusions. Markham Hislop has challenged Ms. Krause to a debate (she hasn’t accepted) and even offered to join the IABC panel if invited. I certainly would consider attending the conference if a panel like this could be arranged.
Where things stand and what’s at stake
As it stands now, I would not pay to hear conspiracy theories targeting charitable organizations and environmental groups fighting climate change. IABC certainly lost me as a possible conference attendee.
Finally, my membership is up for renewal at the end of October. Depending on how this is handled, I may not renew. I just can’t abide by this normalization of conspiracy theorists and climate change deniers by a professional association I once respected.
The last correspondence I received from the ethics Chair was Oct. 4. He promised to get back to me after an October 9th meeting of the committee.
“I’ll be sharing all of the information with the Ethics Committee for our committee meeting next Wednesday, October 9th.
Following the Ethics Committee meeting, I will follow up with you on decisions and action plans.”
I emailed again on Oct. 15 but have not received a reply. I’ve also been tweeting about this as a gentle reminder to IABC. The federal election is Oct. 21 and who knows what damage is done by reputable organizations allowing themselves to be used as pawns by political operatives trying to gain credibility.
Every day I turn on the news and react with shock and disbelief over what is happening in the United States. Some of the same forces at work in America are also active here, undermining the very basis of our democracy.
Ironically, the same Canada West conference includes a session on building trust as the latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows how profoundly polarized we are becoming. Meanwhile, Ms. Krause is being given a keynote platform to erode trust.
Miss Cranky Pants (aka Jody MacPherson) is a professional communicator, social media fan, politico, cyclist, divorcee (is it any wonder?) and coffee addict who gets a little testy without regular caffeine.