RCMP and CSIS face complaints of illegal spying on environmental activists opposing oil pipelines

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      This morning (February 6) lawyers acting on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed complaints alleging that the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have illegally spied on environmental groups and activists who oppose oil pipeline projects.

      “While the Enbridge and Northern Gateway hearings were in process, the RCMP and CSIS were involved in systematic spying and monitoring against Canadians,” said BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson at a press conference at the Vancouver Public Library.

      “The RCMP and CSIS have absolutely no business gathering information on people who are engaged in peaceful, democratic activity,” he continued. “That is a perversion of our system and it is harmful to democracy, because it can intimidate, it can chill people from wanting to express themselves and participate in public debate in the first place.”

      Paterson was joined by representatives of a number of organizations that claim authorities have monitored members’ activities related to the opposition of pipelines proposed to carry bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands (also known as the oil sands) to ports in British Columbia.

      The groups’ complaints relate to some 140 pages of documents released to the Vancouver Observer in November 2013 in response to an access to information request. The BCCLA is arguing information contained therein is proof of illegal government surveillance.

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said that First Nations groups take “great exception” to the RCMP and CSIS spying on members exercising their democratic rights.

      “I want to make it abundantly clear this morning that we will not be intimidated, we will not be coerced into standing down,” he emphasized.

      Phillip put the government’s alleged surveillance operations targeting First Nations groups in the context of the Conservative government’s weakening of environmental regulations and advocacy for pipeline projects.

      “It gives one a very uneasy feeling to know that you are under surveillance and that there are agencies out there gathering evidence,” he said. “This struggle, this battle, this fight, is going to continue. It is going to move through the courts and at some point, it will move out on the land itself. And you can’t help but think that these reports that are being generated as a result of this surveillance are going to be used when we reach that particular stage.”

      Both the RCMP and CSIS declined requests for interviews. RCMP spokesperson David Falls sent the Straight an email stating that the Mounties “will not comment on this matter”. CSIS public liaison officer Tahera Mufti sent an email denying that the agency investigates matters of peaceful dissent.

      Ben West is campaign director for ForestEthics Advocacy, another group that has allegedly had its activities monitored by law enforcement. He called attention to portions of the documents released in November that purport to show that law enforcement agencies have not only monitored environmentalists’ activities, but have also shared some of that information with Canada’s National Energy Board and members of the petroleum industry including Enbridge and Tocra Inc., a company that provides private security services.

      “When you see this in the context of the other attacks on our democracy in Canada—the changes to environmental regulations, the attacks on environmental groups and our charitable status—it is hard to look at this and not feel like there is an unfair collusion that is underway between the federal government and industry,” he said.

      These allegations come shortly after former Tory minister Chuck Strahl was forced to step down as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC)—Canada’s top spy watchdog. It was reported that Strahl was registered in Alberta as a lobbyist for Enbridge and held close ties to other companies with vested interests in the oil sands.

      The BCCLA’s complaints allege that RCMP and 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.

      In addition, the complaint against CSIS claims that the spy agency violated sections of the 1985 Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act that forbid the collection of information on “lawful advocacy, protest or dissent”.

      You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.



      Mark Bowen

      Feb 6, 2014 at 3:22pm

      Once upon a time our government worked to advance the national interest, to be good and moral player on the world stage, to strengthen our economy by supporting CANADIAN companies in ALL sectors, and to protect the rights, security and freedoms of our citizens.

      Seems they work for someone else these days...


      Feb 6, 2014 at 3:37pm

      I would assume that BCCLA is not fishing and actually has evidence of illegal activity such as warrentless wiretap, provocation, or the creation of blacklists that are shared with companies.

      We'll find out when this hits court, if there's any hard evidence behind these very serious sounding allegations. If there are, the book should be thrown at em.

      But. Just watching and recording the public activity (including open meetings) of enviromental groups does not seem very strange to me.

      We are all aware that occasionally there is a heated difference of opinion regarding pipelines or other signs of development. A few people, who have more conviction than good sense perhaps, have been known to flip cars over, intimidate the media, monkeywrench gear, break stuff, troll cops and all that other tedious behaviour.

      Obviously, the authorities in a democracy do not go around pre-emptively arresting or leaning on people to make them refrain from exercising their democratic right to protest.

      But it's common sense that authorities are going to try to watch and understand situations with a potential for confrontation, so that if, goddess forbid, something dangerous goes down, they will be able to step in with some sort of a notion of what it's all about.


      Feb 7, 2014 at 7:43am

      I'm surprised that people are so surprised this is happening in Canada. The law has people spying on people at the local 420 pot rallies, held at the Vancouver Art Gallery every year yet no one screams foul about this. It is common for the law to spy on protest groups and collect information whether it be lawful peaceful protests or other wise around the world. Canada is no different in this matter then any other country around the world. I understand why people would be so angry about this happening, but it is quite common for the law in the country which you live in to be doing this sort of surveillance.

      Hey RUK McCarthy

      Feb 7, 2014 at 11:24am

      As long as your not breaking the law, its all good right? Reading your email, tracking your movements, tapping your phone calls. If you're not a criminal you shouldn't be concerned right?

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 7, 2014 at 12:04pm


      Regarding your second-last paragraph: with respect, check out recent history in your own backyard.
      The 1997 UBC APEC protests featured absolutely unprovoked assaults on peaceful protesters as well as absurdly laughable, Orwellian preventive detention in the case of activist Jaggi Singh.
      Easily searched.

      Kimball Cariou

      Feb 7, 2014 at 12:07pm

      The RCMP and other state agencies have been spying on Canadians for generations, especially targetting radicals, trade unionists, Indigenous activists, and anyone openly critical of the ruling class. During the Cold War, right up to 1983, the RCMP's "Profunc" program collected details of over 50,000 Communists and so-called "sympathisers", for rounding up in the case of some dire emergency. Today, the RCMP, CSIS etc. are mainly concerned with trying to intimidate critics of the fossil fuel industry and tar sands expansion. The target may shift, but the strategy is always to protect the interests of profiteering corporations and right-wing governments. These spy agencies should be shut down, not "reformed".

      Ben Sili

      Feb 7, 2014 at 8:40pm

      @Dunphy: I guess enviro groups and their mouthpieces should be able to utter and publish threats of sabotage without having police concerned... LOL

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 7, 2014 at 9:33pm


      Sorry, but we were talking about preventive detention. What do you call arresting and jailing someone for assault because he shouted through a megaphone months earlier in the direction of a security guard? Then releasing him without charges once the demonstration was over?
      Whatever world you live in, that's not right.


      Feb 8, 2014 at 12:08pm

      Get a grip folks this is nothing new. Work as though you are always being watched and compartmentalize everything because your group has been infiltrated. I would wager half of the activists who spend their lives protesting are informants, especially prominent ones who were involved in the APEC protests and more recently popped up in the Quebec tuition brouhaha in leadership roles. Ultimately most of the activists are pretty inactive when it comes down to it. "Occupy" likes to pop up through friendly media and announce they are still "here," which appears to be the local "alternative" coffee shop of the day.

      Vancouver activists are especially entertaining as one can gauge the length of their involvement by which restaurants or cafés in which they met up. Naturally the "place with the blueberry pancakes" is likely still popular but some other places or urban "activism" have drifted away like La Quena and Joe's. Some of the "private clubs" also had their periods of importance to activists, often depending on the cause du jour. they always believe they are important enough to be surveilled and seem to believe that complaining will stop the programs. They should assume they ware watched and recorded and that every member of the group is a potential informer.

      Travis Lupick

      Feb 8, 2014 at 6:21pm

      @Ben Sili, not one of the groups or individuals mentioned in this story has ever uttered or published any sort of threat or advocacy for sabotage in any way, shape, or form.