A group of B.C. environmentalists is about to have its day in court in a high-profile case against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Beginning in Vancouver on August 12, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), an oversight body, will begin hearing a February 2014 complaint that alleges CSIS illegally spied on activists and First Nations people.
In a telephone interview, B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director Josh Paterson said rules for the hearing are so secret and restrictive that even he—one of the lawyers involved in the case—doesn’t know if he’ll be allowed to remain in the room for the full length of proceedings.
“Nobody can attend other than witnesses who are testifying,” Paterson told the Straight. “I’m not sure there has ever been one [hearing] like it in Vancouver. We think it is a pretty big deal.”
The BCCLA’s complaint pertains to documents released in November 2013 in response to an access to information request. It describes those files as evidence CSIS cooperated with the National Energy Board (NEB) to monitor activists who opposed the construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, a project that is subject to the NEB’s review.
The complaint alleges that in doing so, CSIS officers violated several sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those include provisions stipulating freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association, as well as freedom from unreasonable search. (The complaint also targets the RCMP, though that aspect of the legal action is being handled separately.)
In addition, the complaint against CSIS claims that the spy agency violated sections of the 1985 Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act that forbade the collection of information on “lawful advocacy, protest or dissent”.
Paterson said the case is about bringing to light the actions of a secretive security agency that may be breaking the law.
“We allege that CSIS acted illegally in spying on community groups,” he said. “That in doing that, CSIS violated their constitutional rights. This hearing is about getting to the bottom of that.”
SIRC and CSIS did not respond to requests for interviews by deadline.