“Totalitarian” state surveillance on First Nations adds to “demonization” of pipeline critics: Grand Chief
Canadian police have been conducting extensive surveillance on First Nations critics of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, newly released documents reveal.
As protesters confronted Enbridge's annual meetings in Toronto today, RCMP documents reveal that police spied on meetings between Native leaders and environmental groups, monitored activist communications, and described critics as a potential security threats, according to the Toronto Star.
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The new information, obtained by journalists Tim Groves and Martin Lukacs for the Star, also provides a glimpse into the extent to which the federal government is beefing up their anti-environmental rhetoric with police action.
“In their efforts to demonize First Nations and environmentalists for opposing large-scale resource development projects, now these groups are under surveillance,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, told the Vancouver Observer. “It certainly consistent with the Harper government attack on First Nations and environmentalists. . . (Natural Resources minister) Joe Oliver has essentially declared First Nations and environmentalists the enemies of Canada.
“All of this is very, very disturbing – certainly regressive – and it's a step backward into the past. Obviously, the Harper government and Minister Oliver are taking all measures to silence our voices. It's moving towards a very totalitarian approach to Canadian values like freedom of speech.”
Citing the likelihood of “acts of protest and civil disobedience,” the documents showed that authorities have been carefully monitoring Native and green groups, but in particular the Yinka Dene Alliance, an anti-pipeline coalition of northern BC First Nations which travelled on a “freedom train” to Toronto this weekend.
Police intelligence gathering on pipeline critics included monitoring a private meeting last November between environmental groups and First Nations people in Fraser Lake, BC, the documents state – a meeting intended “to strengthen the alliance between First Nations and environmental groups opposing Enbridge,” according to one December police report obtained by the Toronto Star.
The documents also show that police gathered intelligence from Facebook and Flickr accounts, plus “industry reports” and websites.
“It's very disturbing that the RCMP are reverting back to a darker period in their history,” Phillip said. “They're monitoring environmental and First Nations groups that are simply practising the democratic right of free expression.
“I don't think this is about security. This is about the fact that the Yinka Dene Alliance has been very effective and vocal at shining a very bright light on the obvious downside of Enbridge Northern Gateway project, in terms of the risks that project that represents and its threat to the environment. They've proven themselves to be extremely effective at getting their message out.”
But he added that the new revelations will only serve to strengthen First Nations opposition to the $500 billion project, which would cross 700 rivers and streams on land that has never been ceded to the Crown or signed away in treaties.
It is also not the first time police have been caught spying in recent years on Native groups. Previously obtained documents unveiled a three-year surveillance program which ended in 2010 into First Nations – information which was reportedly shared with energy companies, according to the Toronto Star.
“This will only strengthen our resolve,” Phillip said. “When you repress and oppress the democratic rights of First Nations, environmentalists or anyone, there's a strong reaction – a count-reaction resisting those efforts.
“If anything, it's only going to encourage groups to speak out or to be more vocal in opposition to this project.”
Police did not comment on the documents, but told the Toronto Star they are confidential and only shared with law enforcement officers.
Today's protests by the Yinka Dene Alliance and supporters at the Enbridge annual general meetings saw hundreds in the streets. According to Nikki Skuce, with ForestEthics Advocacy, several proxy shareholder voters to the convention were barred from entering by security.
The RCMP documents warn of “increasing propensity and likelihood of utilizing blockades and confrontation to deter industry from accessing disputed territory” by the Yinka Dene Alliance and other First Nations groups.