Secret documents from spying complaint reveal CSIS kept tabs on community groups and protestors, says BC Civil Liberties Association
July 8, 2019
Thousands of pages of heavily-redacted documents suggest CSIS gathered information on the peaceful protest activities of Indigenous peoples and environmentalists
UNCEDED COAST SALISH TERRITORY (VANCOUVER, BC) — Today, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) published thousands of pages of heavily-redacted documents disclosed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that suggest the spy agency illegally spied on the peaceful protest and organizing activities of Indigenous groups and environmentalists who were opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project. The entire cache of documents was released this morning by the BCCLA and made searchable on a website called the “Protest Papers”.
The complaint, filed in February 2014, alleged that CSIS was monitoring Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics (now Stand.earth), Sierra Club BC, Leadnow.ca (who were opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal), and the Indigenous #IdleNoMore movement, in violation of the law, and sharing this information with the National Energy Board (NEB) and petroleum industry companies. The BCCLA further alleged that this spying activity was deterring individuals from associating with environmental groups and expressing their opinions. It argued that this chilling effect interfered with the freedoms of expression and association as protected by s. 2 of the Charter.
The BCCLA stated that the previously secret documents it released today appear to validate the original complaint.
“People can look at these documents and decide for themselves,” said Meghan McDermott, Staff Lawyer at the BCCLA. “If CSIS claims it wasn’t tracking conservation groups in BC, why did they collect thousands of pages of files relating to groups who engaged in peaceful advocacy and protest? Why are the witnesses in the hearing – staff and volunteers from different non-profit groups – still under a legal gag order, forever forbidden from repeating what they said in the hearing? It is a shocking violation of their freedom of expression.”
The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the body responsible for CSIS oversight, held secret hearings in 2015 to find out what really happened. SIRC acknowledged that CSIS was investigating “targets” who were opposed to pipelines and also that “ancillary information” on other non-targets may have been gathered “incidentally”. SIRC accepted that some groups were “chilled” by the belief that they were spied upon, but concluded that their feelings were not justified. While SIRC ultimately ruled that there was no wrongdoing on CSIS’ part, BCCLA argues that the report itself clearly shows that illegal spying and information has taken place.
BCCLA further argues that CSIS legislation strictly restricts Canada’s spies to sharing information only with the Government of Canada or law enforcement. The BCCLA is challenging SIRC’s decision in Federal Court, which will hear the case following a separate legal review of the redacted records.
During the hearing, SIRC made an unprecedented gag order preventing witnesses in the hearing, including volunteers and staff of several of the organizations involved, from speaking to anyone about their testimony, forever, at the risk of being held in contempt of court. The gag order remains in place four years later, and is being challenged by the BCCLA in Federal Court.
The BCCLA is represented pro bono in this court case by lawyers Paul Champ and Bijon Roy, of Champ and Associates, Ottawa.
Reactions to the documents’ release from the advocacy groups named in the complaint:
Caitlyn Vernon, Campaigns Director with Sierra Club BC: “Why should speaking up for clean drinking water and air free from wildfire smoke make us enemies of the state? Carbon pollution from the oil industry is causing extreme weather, hitting our communities with flooding, wildfires and drought. Illegal spying on concerned residents trying to protect themselves from the impacts of fossil fuels is an attack on our freedoms and our future. We won’t stand for it.”
Alexandra Woodsworth, Campaigns Manager at Dogwood: “Our government already spends billions in public money every year propping up the oil industry. Canadians are right to be concerned about our tax dollars going to pay for illegal spying on behalf of private pipeline companies. It’s another form of corporate welfare.”
Sven Biggs, Energy and Climate Campaigner with Stand.earth (formerly ForestEthics): “This is another example of how the power of big oil subverts Canadian democracy. Our elected leaders need to restore confidence that public institutions, especially law enforcement, are working on the public’s behalf instead of doing the bidding of fossil fuel corporations.”
Sonia Théroux, Co-Executive Director of Leadnow: “Allowing CSIS – a body meant to monitor and protect Canada from threats to national security – to spy on the activities of peaceful, democratically engaged Canadians in order to inform multinational oil companies is the mark of a petrostate. This is a tactic aligned with anti-democratic regimes around the world. Our leaders need to shore up the integrity of our institutions to protect Canada from the global trend toward the erosion of democracy.”
Clayton Thomas-Müller, Senior Campaign Specialist with 350.org: “Our movements are about justice. To spy on and criminalize Indigenous dissent, then, is to repress Indigenous rights in Canada, and our responsibilities to protect the land. We are transparent, open, base-driven movements that take a non-violent, peaceful direct action approach. The state is surveilling and criminalizing Indigenous peoples who are acting within their right to exercise jurisdiction over their lands. This is an abuse of democracy and the nation to nation relationship between Indigenous Nations and the state. It is clearly about providing a right-of-way for the mining and energy sector.”