"We caught this foreign dictatorship trying to undermine freedom of the press here in Canada and trying to export its own contempt for democracy, its own contempt for freedom of the press here in Canada," Alykhan Velshi, founder of the group Ethicaloil.org, told the Toronto Sun.
The TV spot, set to start running on the Sun News Network Monday, argues against importing oil from Saudi Arabia because of its poor human rights record.
A previous ad that ran on the Oprah Winfrey Network in Canada in August hammered the oil-rich kingdom for oppressing women.
"We bankrolled a state that doesn't allow women to drive, doesn't allow them to leave their homes or work without their male guardian's permission and a state where a woman's testimony only accounts for half of a man's," the announcer says. "Why are we paying their bills and funding their oppression?."
EthicalOil.org says it's a grass-roots advocacy group that aims to educate consumers about the choice between oil from controversial oil sands projects in Western Canada or so-called conflict oil from authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia.
"On September 6, 2011, Telecaster Services from the Television Bureau of Canada, the advertising review and clearance service funded by Canada's private broadcasters, notified EthicalOil.org that it had received a cease and desist letter from lawyers for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia demanding that approval for EthicalOil.org's ad be withdrawn," the group said on its website.
Velshi said neither Telecaster Services nor Norton Rose, the law firm that sent the letter, will show it the material behind the letter.
"So all we know is Saudi Arabia has hired a law firm to try to censor what can appear on our television screens and that's an outrage," Velshi told the Sun.
Velshi said the ad will go on the air as scheduled and he has written the Saudi ambassador to Canada challenging him to a televised debate about the ad and its contents. He also wants Foreign Minister John Baird and the Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to investigate "a foreign dictatorship trying to censor what Canadians can and cannot see on their televisions."
The moves come as supporters of oil sands development battle environmentalists trying to persuade American politicians and citizens to curtail petroleum imports from oil sands production, which they argue has huge climate-change implications. Hundreds of people have been arrested in Washington, D.C., recently for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline intended to take the oil from Alberta to refineries in the southern U.S.
EthicalOil argues it's better to buy oil from liberal democracies like Canada, where the industry is subject to environmental regulation and the rule of law, than from "some of the world's most politically oppressive and environmentally reckless regimes."
(Screen shot: Ethical Oil)