RCMP Complaint Commissioner Investigating Spying on Groups


Why are the RCMP and CSIS spy­ing on per­fectly peace­ful orga­ni­za­tions whose mem­bers are not only exer­cis­ing their Char­ter rights to free­dom of speech and assem­bly, but also simul­ta­ne­ously doing their duty as active cit­i­zens in a democ­racy? And why have these agen­cies infil­trated First Nations and pos­si­bly envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions with spies while simul­ta­ne­ously con­ced­ing in inter­nal emails that they are peaceful?

We may have an answer soon, at least as regards the RCMP.

A com­plaint about RCMP and CSIS sur­veil­lance of Cana­dian groups engag­ing in peace­ful and law­ful activ­i­ties has trig­gered an inves­ti­ga­tion by the RCMP Com­mis­sion for Pub­lic Com­plaints, bypass­ing the usual pro­ce­dure of the police first inves­ti­gat­ing their own behaviour.

The BC Civil Lib­er­ties Asso­ci­a­tion objects to sur­veil­lance of Cana­dian cit­i­zens and CSIS and the RCMP shar­ing infor­ma­tion with the National Energy Board and pri­vate petro­leum indus­try secu­rity firms dur­ing the board’s North­ern Gate­way Project hear­ings. In com­plaints filed in Feb­ru­ary with the two agen­cies, the BCCLA pointed to a series of media reports in 2012 and 2013 sug­gest­ing that main­stream orga­ni­za­tions oppos­ing gov­ern­ment energy pri­or­i­ties were being framed as “rad­i­cal­ized.” More recent media reports sug­gest that oppo­si­tion related to the petro­leum indus­try is con­sid­ered a threat to national secu­rity by the agencies-and that the police and CSIS met with energy indus­try staff to share information.

In a Feb­ru­ary 20 let­ter back to the BCCLA, the interim chair of the Com­mis­sion for Pub­lic Com­plaints Against the Royal Cana­dian Mounted Pol­icy advises that he has ini­ti­ated a pub­lic inter­est inves­ti­ga­tion into the complaint.

BCCLA is pleased. “It’s clear that the RCMP com­plaints com­mis­sion is tak­ing this spy­ing com­plaint very seri­ously, by inves­ti­gat­ing the com­plaint itself rather than leav­ing the job to the RCMP,” says Josh Pater­son, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the BCCLA in a media release. “Police spy­ing on peace­ful activists should not be tol­er­ated in a demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety. We hope that the com­mis­sion will get to the bot­tom of this. Cana­di­ans must be free to express them­selves with­out hav­ing to won­der if the per­son hold­ing a protest sign next to them is a police informant.”

In its ini­tial com­plaint, BCCLA quoted an RCMP sargeant’s email con­firm­ing that the agency expected a peace­ful protest but would still “mon­i­tor” the event. BCCL wrote that they are “trou­bled that the RCMP would deem it nec­es­sary to mon­i­tor peace­ful gath­er­ings at which it has no expec­ta­tion of crim­i­nal behav­iour, threat to pub­lic safety or need to ensure the safety of demon­stra­tors.” An email from a senior RCMP staffer noted they “will con­tinue to mon­i­tor all aspects of the anti-petroleum indus­try movement.”

The com­plaint also notes that infor­ma­tion shared with the NEB and the petro­leum indus­try is likely per­sonal infor­ma­tion about spe­cific indi­vid­u­als. And that ref­er­ences in inter­nal doc­u­ments to “con­fi­den­tial sources” sug­gests the RCMP has infil­trated orga­ni­za­tions whose mem­bers are “peace­fully exer­cis­ing their Charter-protected assem­bly and expres­sion rights.”

How did we get to the point where peo­ple are seen as a threat when they work peace­fully to cre­ate what they see as a bet­ter Canada? Is this new or do we have a his­tory of this in Canada? I’ll explore those ques­tions in future entries.


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