The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has unveiled 19 volumes of documents, indicating Canada's spy service collected thousands of pages of files on groups engaged in peaceful advocacy and protest.
These heavily redacted documents, dubbed the Protest Papers, are now available on the BCCLA website.
The BCCLA obtained a court order forcing the Security Intelligence Review Committee to disclose these documents in connection with a complaint filed in 2014 against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP.
According to the BCCLA, the Protest Papers "suggest the spy agency illegally spied on the peaceful protest and organizing activities of Indigenous groups and environmentalists who were opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project".
In 2016, the Trudeau cabinet vetoed the Northern Gateway project while approving two other pipelines: the Trans Mountain expansion and Enbridge's Line 3.
The original complaint alleged that the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics (now Stand.earth), Sierra Club B.C., and Leadnow.ca—all of which opposed the Northern Gateway project—and the Indigenous Idle No More movement were being tracked by federal agencies.
Moreover, the complaint alleged that the findings were shared with the National Energy Board and petroleum companies.
According to the BCCLA, these actions allegedly deterred people from expressing their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
“People can look at these documents and decide for themselves,” BCCLA staff lawyer Meghan McDermott said in a news release. “If CSIS claims it wasn’t tracking conservation groups in B.C., why did they collect thousands of pages of files relating to groups who engaged in peaceful advocacy and protest? Why are the witnesses in the hearing—staff and volunteers from different nonprofit groups—still under a legal gag order, forever forbidden from repeating what they said in the hearing? It is a shocking violation of their freedom of expression.”
SIRC held an in-camera hearing in 2015 and acknowledged that "ancillary information" might have been gathered on people who were not targets of any CSIS probes. In the end, SIRC cleared CSIS of any wrongdoing.
The BCCLA stated that a "gag order" remains in effect on witnesses at the hearing.
Meanwhile, environmental groups are raising an alarm about the threat that CSIS's action poses to democratic discourse in Canada.
“Our movements are about justice," 350.org senior campaign specialist and prominent Indigenous activist Clayton Thomas-Müller said in the BCCLA news release. "To spy on and criminalize Indigenous dissent, then, is to repress Indigenous rights in Canada, and our responsibilities to protect the land. We are transparent, open, base-driven movements that take a nonviolent, peaceful direct action approach.
"The state is surveilling and criminalizing Indigenous peoples who are acting within their right to exercise jurisdiction over their lands," he continued. "This is an abuse of democracy and the nation to nation relationship between Indigenous nations and the state. It is clearly about providing a right-of-way for the mining and energy sector.”
Caitlyn Vernon of Sierra Club B.C. questioned why anyone speaking up for clean drinking water and air free from wildfire smoke should be deemed an enemy of the state.
"Carbon pollution from the oil industry is causing extreme weather, hitting our communities with flooding, wildfires and drought. Illegal spying on concerned residents trying to protect themselves from the impacts of fossil fuels is an attack on our freedoms and our future," she said. "We won’t stand for it.”
Stand.earth's Sven Biggs said that allowing CSIS "to spy on the activities of peaceful, democratically engaged Canadians in order to inform multinational oil companies is the mark of a petrostate".
"This is a tactic aligned with antidemocratic regimes around the world," he added. "Our leaders need to shore up the integrity of our institutions to protect Canada from the global trend toward the erosion of democracy."
The BCCLA is challenging the gag order imposed by the committee. The Ottawa-based law firm Champ and Associates is doing this work on a pro bono basis.