Federal agency monitors First Nations’ and environmental protests in B.C.

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      First Nations leaders are both alarmed and confused by their organizations’ names appearing in a record of hundreds of peaceful protests monitored by the federal government.

      “It really calls to question the notion of democracy and freedom of speech,” said Gwaans (Beverley Clifton Percival), a member of the Git-xsan First Nation. “I’m curious as to how they generate such lists.”

      According to the document, Git-xsan members held a rally in Hazelton, in northwestern B.C., on October 4, 2013. The event’s “sponsor” was the Gitxsan Treaty Society, a negotiating body for which Clifton Percival is the spokesperson. The agency reporting to Ottawa was the RCMP.

      That record is one of almost 800 that appear in a document tabled in Parliament on September 18. It provides basic details for a range of demonstrations that a federal agency called the Government Operations Centre (GOC) tracked from 2006 to June 2014.

      At least 20 of those events took place in Vancouver. An additional 30 occurred at various locations throughout the province. Some reports to GOC relied on the media; others were documented by the RCMP or Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

      First Nations whose activities appear on the list include the Stz’uminus in the Gulf Islands and southeastern Vancouver Island, the Yekooche in the province’s central Interior, and the Tahltan in northern B.C.

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told the Georgia Straight he was concerned but not surprised by this disclosure.

      “You learn to accept this as one of the ongoing conditions of dealing with the Harper government,” he said. At the same time, Phillip objected: “It is an absolute infringement on our democratic rights to be able to give free expression to our opinions. The fact that we’re being monitored so closely is deeply disturbing.”

      In addition to First Nations’ protests, the GOC document includes details on national demonstrations such as those organized by the Occupy movement and Idle No More. Protests monitored in Vancouver include anti-Olympic rallies and a large number of environmental actions, such as protests against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

      GOC declined a request for an interview. According to the Public Safety Canada website, GOC “monitors events of national significance (24/7) and shares information to senior officials, provincial/territorial (P/T) governments and/or the private sector”.

      Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said that emails and other documents released in response to freedom-of-information requests previously revealed that federal agencies were monitoring environmentalists’ activities. He noted that in February 2014, lawyers acting on behalf of the BCCLA filed complaints alleging that the RCMP and CSIS had illegally spied on environmental groups and activists who oppose oil-pipeline projects.

      Paterson said that what the GOC list does is provide details and reveal the scope of Ottawa’s efforts to monitor groups that oppose its policies.

      “It’s a real problem when the government engages in blanket surveillance of all peaceful protest in the country,” he argued. “When people feel as if they are being watched, when people feel as if they are being monitored by the government or by the police, they may be less likely to exercise their democratic right of assembly.”

      The release of the GOC document came the same week that Carleton University criminology professor Jeff Monaghan obtained and publicized a March 2011 RCMP report titled “Environmental Criminal Extremism and Canada’s Energy Sector”.

      That document describes “criminal occurrences attributed to environmentalists” as a threat “more likely” to occur within Canada than an attack by Al Qaeda or a similar terrorist organization.

      “It is highly probable that environmental criminal extremists will attempt to mount direct actions targeting Canada’s energy sector,” it states.

      The RCMP report also includes sections alluding to how federal agencies are keeping tabs on “extremists from environmental and animal rights groups”.

      “CSIS continues to monitor individuals and organizations that might be involved in other forms of terrorism, such as, domestic terrorism including the threat or the use of violence by groups advocating for issues such as the environment,” the document reads.

      The RCMP did not respond to a request for an interview.

      Joe Foy is a national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, an organization whose name appears on the GOC list in relation to a 2009 demonstration held in Vancouver. He noted that public protests are designed to attract attention, but he questioned if this kind of government interest impinges on civil liberties.

      “None of this is right,” Foy said. “In a society like ours, activists have a responsibility to stand peacefully for the values that Canadians share.”

      Comments

      10 Comments

      Boris Moris

      Sep 24, 2014 at 3:18pm

      To all those who would complain about this oppressive regime, Harper would prefer that you all support one of his approved environmental organizations like "Ethical Oil" or the "Green" Party. The latter has been of great use to Harper and the BC Liberals. Whenever Greens are on the ballot you can expect the kind of vote splitting that results in right wing majorities and the gutting of environmental oversight.

      mooha

      Sep 24, 2014 at 10:03pm

      It is the job of CSIS to prevent acts of terrorism. When groups make open threats to "stop by any means possible" projects that they disapprove of, no matter how righteous the cause, you they can expect to garner attention.

      This is just pulling at heartstrngs, hoping the mere fact they are FN, will garner them extra sympathy.Idle No More caused a lot of disruption, and threatened more. I suppose one could argue that an empty vessel makes the most racket, and they would unlikely be so stupid as to advertise their plans. But you never know. I suspect it is more satisfying to HAVE gotten their attention than to just dismiss them of no consequence. As long as they are not arresting anyone for spurious reasons, I fail to see the problem. What are they so afraid will be revealed?

      If, for instance an anti abortion group was threatening to bomb a clinic, would you complain that CSIS was monitoring them. This is no different, no matter what you opinion is of the cause.

      The key word is "Peaceful" protest. And many of these groups advocate, and engage in anything but. I frankly pay as little attention to them as possible. They clearly have no respect for anyone but themselves, why should I concern myself with their problems? It's all in the DELIVERY of the message.

      Now if they were to protest via education, not by the de rigueur blocking of traffic, I would be MUCH more inclined to listen to their beefs. And maybe they might gain an ally

      Martin Dunphy

      Sep 24, 2014 at 10:58pm

      mooha:

      Thanks for the post, but none of these groups, as far as I can tell, have ever threatened violence. They are treaty organizations, tribal councils, and environmental groups and, yes, ordinary citizens just like you who are merely exercising their right to free speech.
      You imagine that they all have the potential for violence. Well, so do you. Would you like to be monitored?

      Accepting the attitude that "If you have nothing to hide then why would you ever complain about intrusive and excessive state surveillance" could easily segue into embracing, say, preventive detention. Or worse. Just look south of the border.
      My two cents' worth.

      mooha

      Sep 25, 2014 at 12:37am

      Martin:

      I was referring more to Idle no more, and Occupy, both of whom have used some pretty inflammatory rhetoric. Idle no Moore caused massive disruption, largely to people who were nothing more than unfortunate bystanders. There have also been violent clashes in Ontario, Quebec and BC involving native groups. Perhaps not the ones you mention, should we wait until after the fact?

      "Exercising your rights to free speech" is no longer about speaking, rather it is equated with disruption, as if it is the only way to get the message out. I question exactly what message they think they are delivering? I doubt it is winning them many friends. Potential for violence is not the only reason for monitoring, there is also potential for property damage.

      I fear the stifling of non "correct" viewpoints more as an affront to my freedom, and a possible segue to oppression much more than monitoring. If your article disclosed that any of member of the groups in question was being "preventively (is this a word?) detained", then I would be writing a much different post.

      The combination of feverish resistance, some very unstable people, and groups perhaps not knowing the potential of some supporters is a recipe for exactly the type of Government intrusion you decry. Do I like it? No. Do I understand why it is happening? Sadly, yes

      I have been a member of numerous protest movements, some very successful, some not. I however never belonged to any who felt it was acceptable to randomly disrupt peoples lives. I can also guarantee that I am on at least one databases ( I saw my picture being taken from a suspicious looking truck). It has never effected my life in any way.

      View from the coast

      Sep 25, 2014 at 8:18am

      This has a "chilling effect" from anyone wanting to peacefully protest government policies that they feel are totally wrong. Come on, WC2 a terrorist organization?!
      How many people would want to demonstrate if they know their name will be on a list somewhere. So you don't get a contract if you are a freelancer, and you don't know why. This is a means of crushing dissent. If you want to oppose something Corporate Canada is doing, be prepared to put your economic well being on the line, or better yet, just have no mortgage or kids to support, as these will be placed in jeopardy.

      RUK

      Sep 25, 2014 at 9:29am

      Let's turn this around. Who would expect or want protest groups to be completely unmonitored?

      Also, I thought the point was to attract as much attention as possible. Should the police be allowed to clip pictures out of the newspaper?

      You Kids Still Got It Easy

      Sep 27, 2014 at 11:14am

      Want to know the endgame? Look at how drug users, especially acid heads, who have the most in common with peaceful protest culture, are treated. There's a War on Drug Users, y'know---so if you want to see how far it can get, just look at how the acidheads are treated, and realize the state doesn't care so much about acid, it cares about heads, heads that think for themselves and question authority.

      If you can solve the drug war, you can solve any environmental crisis---conversely, if you cannot stop the drug war, the idea that you will be able to deal with larger issues like petro-corporations is laughable.

      As for Gov't Surveillance, if you don't have a file in the gov't intelligence corporations, it means you're not doing anything interesting. Not that having one means you are, but not having one means you're boring, prob. not getting close to doing anything effective. They only keep tabs on people who might be effective.

      Ernie Crey

      Sep 28, 2014 at 10:13am

      Odd, I thought the idea of protests, demonstrations, rallies and the like is to get public attention for a cause or an issue.

      Tod

      Sep 28, 2014 at 6:35pm

      @Ernie Crey, do you think that the RCMP are there thoughtfully lisetening to protesters' arguments and monitoring demonstrations to take notes on policy suggestions?

      Idiot.

      And as it even states right in the article...

      "He noted that public protests are designed to attract attention, but he questioned if this kind of government interest impinges on civil liberties."

      David Stewart

      Sep 28, 2014 at 8:18pm

      Let's kick their Nixonian azzes to the curb when the emperor panics and calls an election early in 2015.