A complaint filed Thursday could lead to criminal or civil charges against Canadian climate change denial groups.
Environmental advocacy organization Ecojustice filed the complaint to the Competition Bureau asking the Canadian agency to investigate groups paying for billboards and websites that claim global warming isn't happening, and that humans aren't driving climate change.
If the Commissioner of Competition finds there's truth to the complaint, Canada's Attorney General could bring charges against the climate change denial groups, or the Commissioner could start civil court action.
In the complaint, Ecojustice accuses "denier groups" of making claims without any basis in science, citing examples including a 2014 billboard that proclaimed "The sun is the main driver of climate change. Not you. Not CO2." And a website that claims "the earth's atmosphere is not warming," and "Al Gore was wrong about CO2."
"Just as with tobacco, these misrepresentations are designed to sow doubt in the public's mind about the reality, causes, and consequences of global warming and climate change," the complaint, written by lawyer Charles Hatt, states. By misrepresenting this evidence, the tobacco industry was able to delay harm to its business interests, the application states.
The application accuses the groups Friends of Science, Heartland Institute and International Climate Science Coalition of making "false and misleading representations about the reality, causes and consequences of global warming and climate change, in contravention of the Competition Act."
Anyone who "knowingly or recklessly [makes] a representation to the public that is false or misleading in a material request" contravenes the Competition Act.
When news of the complaint reached Twitter, Friends of Science said in a statement they weren't notified in advance, and said "the publication of the complaint and attendant publicity, prior to Friends of Science Society receiving any official notice of such action, appear to violate the nature and intent of Competition Bureau work, and to unfairly and publicly make damaging allegations against Friends of Science Society and other parties named in the document, which are not founded on investigative outcomes."
The Ecojustice complaint was filed on behalf of six Canadians, including executive director of Ecojustice Devon Page, former Canadian ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis, IPCC lead author Danny Harvey and three environment and climate scientists.
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont