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‘Hot Lesbian’ Pro-Oil Sands Ad Was ‘Ethical Oil’ Campaign at Its Extreme Endpoint

The ad was sexist and dumb but at least you know where its ideology is, which is more than you can say about Canada's pro-pipeline politicians.
July 26, 2016, 1:40pm

It's difficult to think up an ad more predictably sexist, kitschy, and, well, Albertan than what the Canada Oil Sands Community unleashed into the world on Sunday night.

The ad, which has since been taken down, features two white feminine persons on the verge of kissing in what appears to be a high school hallway that unexpectedly transitions into an aerial shot of a boreal forest.

Adjacent to the photo is text in three different, increasingly cartoonish fonts: "In Canada lesbians are considered hot! In Saudi Arabia if you're a lesbian you die! Why are we getting our oil from countries that don't think lesbians are hot?!"

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At the bottom of the rhetorical shitstorm is a plea to like the Facebook page so it can reach its goals of 100,000 likes (it's currently at 14,000, almost there b'ys!)

Lots of problems with this situation.

The photo's male-gazey and hyper-sexualizing as hell. The argument ignores the fact that many women who self-identify as gay or bisexual aren't "considered hot" by our racist, transphobic, ableist, and fatphobic culture.

Then there's the fundamental misunderstanding of the economic circumstances that encourage Eastern refineries to use Saudi oil (in short, oil from that region is really, really cheap to produce and transport compared to dilbit from Alberta).

And, as to be expected (and encouraged), the ad was swiftly destroyed on Twitter.

Cody Battershill, the founder of the embarrassing I Love Oil Sands campaign, rapidly distinguished his pet project from the ad. Eventually, Robbie Picard—the gay, Métis man who started Canada Oil Sands Community and used to lead Battershill's I Love Oil Sands campaign in Fort McMurray and Edmonton—issued an apology on the ol' FB last night.

"It was not my intent of demeaning women or any people of any sexual orientation," Picard wrote. "It's [sic] was rather to highlight injustice done by other countries we are purchasing our oil from. I certainly don't want to divide our community[.] I believe in equality and human rights."

(A very cool commenter who lists "part-time drinker" as his job title responded: "as a straight guy I'm almost offended that women were offended by that picture" and "you don't support our oil you're a disgrace.")

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Picard deserves the internet wrath he received. There's no excusing the sexism, objectification, and shitty design that he propagated.

But let's get real.

Picard's logic was totally in line with what politicians and pundits' have been selling to the public on this file for years, which have grounded arguments for the expansion of the tarsands and construction of pipeline projects like TransCanada's Energy East and Kinder Morgan's Trans-Mountain Expansion.

Think of Picard's ad as the most brutally honest representation of the level of discourse that technocrats have been spouting for the past half-decade.

Here it goes in its most extreme form: countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have godawful human rights records, buying petroleum products from them directly and implicitly supports their behaviour and that we as good, moral Canadians should do everything we can to develop and consume our own natural resources, thus boosting our national economy and starving the economies of countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (who will presumably stop beheading and starving its citizens, respectively).

Some, like former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Rebel Media mouthpiece Ezra Levant, have summarized such arguments under the grandiose banner of "ethical oil."

"Canada is a very ethical society and a safe source for the United States in comparison to other sources of energy," said Harper in 2011.

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More sensible politicians like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley don't openly reference the execution of LGBTQ people in Saudi Arabia or crippling levels of corruption in Nigeria when they talk about pipelines and the tarsands.

Directly, that is. And this is where things get especially troublesome.

Sure, part of the groundwork has already been completed by the likes of Harper and Levant and Picard via the "ethical oil" trope: while Canada is plagued with issues like secretive corporate lobbying and gutted low-income housing and all the rest, we can still Photoshop a dildo in Harper's hand and not get our kneecap shattered with a shotgun blast.

But there are serious and unchecked ethical assumptions held by Notley, Trudeau, et al, that allow for the very existence of the tarsands and export of associated products via pipelines and tankers, and that in unspoken terms justify development by choosing not to speak of the evils (as opposed to the former category who are clearer about the alternatives).

Namely, the theft of land from Indigenous peoples and contamination of what's left for them.

The tarsands operate in Treaty 8 territory, with its byproducts traversing (and sometimes spilling in) almost every other treatied area in the country.

It takes like five minutes of research to realize that treaties have been: a.) constantly broken, and b.) deeply misunderstood.

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Many Indigenous elders and people contend their ancestors never agreed to "cede" their land as the signatories had little familiarity with Western concepts of property and were far more invested in principles like sharing and friendship and all those other things that white people supposedly learned as kids (not to mention language translation issues and the recent decimation of the buffalo, etc.).

There's a growing demand for conversations about "reconciliation" to include the return of land and acknowledgement of Indigenous nationhood, which would inevitably disrupt operations of the tarsands and other resource extraction projects.

But there's no word from the likes of Trudeau or Notley on such moving forwards on such subjects: the federal Liberals recently broke their pledge to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There are no black-and-white battlelines drawn here like with "ethical oil," separating the celebration of hot lesbians from guillotining their Saudi counterparts.

But politicians' tacit endorsement of projects like Energy East—which will plow through hundreds of distinct Indigenous nations and communities that oppose the pipeline—almost seems worse, concealing a phenomenally lucrative industry under the guise of normality and reasonableness and incontestability.

Trudeau and Notley simply don't need to embark on such campaigns: their arguments were won decades and centuries ago with the decimation of Indigenous peoples via disease and residential schools, and cultural genocide with the confinement on reserves and destruction of territories with resource development and institutional poverty and underfunding and hopelessness.

At least Picard let us know honestly how totally fucked up his ideology is.

Follow James Wilt on Twitter.