Call to probe RCMP, CSIS spying on pipeline opponents
Will Horter, Executive Director, Dogwood Initiative speaks to government about spying at a press conference in Vancouver, B.C. on Thursday February 6, 2014. British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) files two complaints against CSIS and RCMP, alleging they spied on community groups and First Nations opposed to Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and tankers project. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has accused Canadian law enforcement agencies of needlessly spying on environmental groups opposed to oil projects in the province, saying it amounts to illegal activity by authorities.
On Thursday, the BCCLA told reporters in Vancouver it’s filing complaints against the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service with their respective watchdogs after documents revealed surveillance of groups the organization likened to “grandmothers in basements.”
It said the documents, originally part of a freedom of information request by news website The Vancouver Observer, showed the information gleaned was shared with oil companies, including Enbridge Inc.
BCCLA spokesman Josh Paterson alleged the actions of the Mounties and the federal intelligence organization interfered with freedoms of expression, assembly and association.
“Interestingly, the documents note there’s no suspicion of a criminal threat. They take pains to point that out,” he said. “And yet here they are continuing to gather this information.”
Paterson said it appeared the authorities were mostly gathering information via group websites, which he added was still wrong as it tracked people not known to be engaged in criminal activity.
Also at issue is part of the documents reveal information that only could have been gathered if an informant was in the room during a meeting at a local church, unless, Paterson suggested, the church was bugged.
Environmental groups and First Nations representatives at the Thursday media conference alleged the RCMP and CSIS were in collusion with Ottawa and part of a larger, unwarranted smear campaign against citizens concerned about the environment.
The group said they knew the government has been using open information, but raised questions about the possibility police informants covertly attended group meetings to gather intelligence about “sign making,” calling it a waste of tax dollars.
The RCMP said it hadn’t yet received notification of a complaint, but added it would take one seriously.
CSIS couldn’t comment on specific complaints and said it doesn’t investigate peaceful protest and dissent.
Last month, former Conservative MP Chuck Strahl resigned from his position as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee after it was revealed he had also registered as a lobbyist in Alberta and B.C. on behalf of Enbridge.
The SIRC oversees CSIS to which the BCCLA’s complaints were filed.
Strahl didn’t return a request for comment, but the BCCLA said it wasn’t aware of any interference or direction from him to CSIS regarding any monitoring.
The civil rights watchdog said it was concerned about apparent conflict of interests between other members of the SIRC, Yves Fortier and Denis Losier.
Both have previously worked for energy companies and the BCCLA is asking them to recuse themselves from the SIRC.