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

Thursday, February 6, 2014
The Straight

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.

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