CSIS monitored Northern Gateway protestors, community groups

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association accuses CSIS of providing oil industry companies with information gathered during illegal spying operations on Northern Gateway pipeline protestors. Reuters photo by Andy Clark.

On Monday, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association published thousands of pages of redacted documents disclosed by Canada’s spy agency, CSIS.  The BCCLA says the documents suggest CSIS illegally gathered information on Indigenous groups, environmentalists and community activists who were opposed to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

In February 2014, the BCCLA filed a complaint against CSIS and the RCMP alleging the two agencies had illegally spied on the protestors, including Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics (now Stand.earth), Sierra Club BC, Leadnow.ca, and the Indigenous #Idlenomore movement.  The group also alleges that CSIS and the RCMP shared the information they gathered with the National Energy Board and companies in the oil industry.

In a press release issued by the BCCLA, the group also alleges that the CSIS activity deterred individuals “from associating with environmental groups and expressing their opinions,” interfering with the freedoms of expression and association protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“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 BCCLA says the gag order has been in place for four years and prevents witnesses in the hearing, including volunteers and staff of several organizations involved, from speaking about their testimony, at the risk of being held in contempt of court. The BCCLA is challenging the gag order in Federal Court.

According to a press release from the BCCLA, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the body responsible for CSIS oversight, held secret hearings in 2015 to investigate the matter. Following the hearing, 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 also argues that CSIS legislation strictly restricts the agency to sharing information only with the Government of Canada or law enforcement.  BCCLA is challenging SIRC’s decision in Federal Court, which will hear the case following a separate legal review of the redacted records.

Representatives of the some of the groups allegedly targeted by CSIS argue the spy agency’s actions violate rights and freedoms.

Clayton Thomas-Müller, Senior Campaign Specialist with 350.org said “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.”

Thomas-Müller added “It is clearly about providing a right-of-way for the mining and energy sector.”

The BCCLA is represented pro bono in this court case by lawyers Paul Champ and Bijon Roy, of Champ and Associates, Ottawa.




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