Taxpayer-funded pipeline bomb video game sparks controversy
Published Saturday, March 23, 2013 9:15AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 23, 2013 10:48PM EDT
An online video game funded by Ontario taxpayers is causing a firestorm of controversy in three provinces for depicting pipeline bombings.
The game, called “Pipe Trouble,” was released by TV Ontario, the province’s public broadcaster. TVO recently removed the game from its website after critics charged that it depicts eco-terrorist activities. The broadcaster said the game will be independently reviewed.
The game is described on a TVO blog as a “companion ethical game” to a documentary called “Trouble in the Peace,” which addresses local opposition to pipelines and the bombing of pipelines in Peace River, B.C.
The object of the game is to build a money-making pipeline without harming the environment or angering local farmers. Its introductory video appears to depict protesting activists and a pipeline blowing up.
Politicians in B.C. say the game is a tasteless reminder of the issue at the heart of the documentary.
Beginning in 2008, a series of explosions targeting Encana pipelines rocked northern B.C., leaving residents shaken. Activist Wiebo Ludwig, previously convicted in Alberta oilpatch bombings, was arrested, but never charged. He died last year.
Mike Bernier, the mayor of Dawson Creek, said the incident should not be taken lightly.
“It wasn’t a laughing matter and to have somebody really try to take away from the devastating experience that we had by putting it into a video game -- it’s just absolutely disturbing,” Bernier said.
The video game has also garnered strong criticism in Alberta, where Premier Alison Redford said in a statement that she found it “disappointing to see a taxpayer-funded game and organization depict the blowing up of pipelines.
“It’s the exact opposite of Canada’s interests given all of Canada benefits from a strong and diverse energy sector.”
For its part, TVO said the game does not take sides in the debate over pipelines.
The broadcaster also denied suggestions the game has any links to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, as neither the documentary nor the game makes any mention of it.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would ship crude from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries in Texas, is facing major opposition from environmentalists who do not want to see the line constructed.
Following the backlash, TVO pulled the game from its website, pending an independent review “in the context of TVO’s programming standards.”
A report is to be delivered to TVO’s board of directors by the end of April.
Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals said Friday that she hadn’t seen the game, but has questions about its educational standard in relation to TVO. She also wants to know how it fits within government spending rules.
“TVO is appropriately free of government interference in editorial content,” she said. “I think, in fact, if the government were to try to interfere in editorial content, there would quite rightly be an outcry from the Opposition.”
Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives also slammed the game, saying it is a “flagrant misuse” of taxpayers’ money, and that it threatens to paint Ontario as anti-pipeline and anti-Western Canada.
In a statement, Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton called on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to confirm the project has been shut down and apologize to Alberta “on behalf of all Ontarians.”
Wynne said she would not be taking a side in the national pipeline debate as she prepares to discuss the issue with colleagues across the country.
“We’re not drawing a line in the sand at this point on any of that,” she said.
Tempers are also flaring over the fact that a percentage of the proceeds from the online purchase of the game go to the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Vancouver.
Federal Heritage Minister James Moore, who called the game “tasteless,” told reporters it was inappropriate for the organization to receive proceeds from the game.
“That’s taxpayers’ money and that’s obviously disappointing,” Moore said. “I would hope David Suzuki would say no to money from a video game like that.”
The David Suzuki Foundation told CTV News “it does not condone violent or illegal activity” but “gladly accepted the donation.”
TVO spent approximately $100,000 on both the game and the documentary.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Scott Roberts and with files from The Canadian Press