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.