Harper government tracking hundreds of peaceful protests
"Don’t be fearful of us—we just want to become a part of larger Canada,” said Chief Joe Alphonse of Tsilhqot’in Nation
A new Public Safety document obtained by a Member of Parliament reveals that the government has been keeping tabs on more than 600 protests, rallies and events across Canada between 2006 and 2014.
A large portion of the peaceful gatherings were held by First Nations -- others by environmental and social activists protesting fracking, Keystone XL, and human rights abuses.
One such event was a celebration held by Tsilhqot’in Nation in Ottawa on the steps of the Supreme Court in November 2013. The small B.C. band was pushing what would become a landmark title claim that would have huge repercussions for industrial projects across Canada.
When reached Friday, the chief said he had no idea his people were the spotlight of such federal interest.
“We’ve known that we are of interest to Canada for quite some time but instead of spying on us, invite us into your boardroom and let’s talk—that’s what this has been about."
"If you’re not aware of something you’re going to be fearful of it, don’t be fearful of us we just want to become a part of larger Canada,” said Chief Alphonse of Tsilhqot’in Nation.
People at Tsilhqot’in gathering outside Supreme Court - November 8, 2013 - Tsilhqot’in Facebook
"We’re from B.C. and some of our elders have never been outside of their reserve and here they were in the middle of Ottawa… so very huge, huge for them,” said Chief Alphonse.
The document came to light, after Liberal MP Scott Brison asked the Public Safety Minister to disclose it in a formal request.
Several government agencies and departments - including the RCMP, CSIS, Justice, Canada Border Services, and Aboriginal Affairs -- made up the 600 reports on the nationwide gatherings.
NDP M.P. Nathan Cullen said that everything seems to be a threat in Harper’s eyes.
“It’s a paranoid leader who feels Canadians need to be spied on when they’re being peaceful,” said Cullen.
Another report - a 2011 RCMP security threat analysis recently obtained through an access to information request -- showed that the federal authorities are worried about advocacy groups.
The RCMP concluded that threats from environmentalists in particular can be even more serious than from religious extremists.
Tsilhqot’in drummers outside Supreme Court on November 8, 2013 - Tsilhqot’in Facebook
“Environmental ideologically motivated individuals including some who are aligned with a radical, criminal extremist ideology pose a clear and present criminal threat to Canada’s energy sector,” said the report. Since then, the RCMP has held regular meetings.
In response to this story, Public Safety Canada said that its coordinating agency was not spying.
"The GOC does not conduct surveillance operations, does not conduct intelligence gathering and does not obtain or hold any private or personal information pertaining to Canadian citizens," wrote a spokesperson Saturday.
However, it's not clear if any of any of the agencies did spy. RCMP and CSIS often do use covert surveillance as part of their investigations.
The executive director of Environmental Defence said instead of monitoring First Nations leaders, the government should talk to them.
“It seems that government sees First Nations as a threat rather than someone to be worked with in a collaborative and positive way and again that’s unfortunate,” said Tim Gray in Toronto.
Cullen also said that the government is spying on those who may be critical of their government and that devoting resources to peaceful gatherings is a huge waste of resources.
“Rather than scaring Canadians away from the conversation—why not listen to them?” said Cullen.
Chief Alphonse said he would happily offer the spare room in his house to any Canadian spy.
“The shame lies on government side, they’re the ones that have to take these tactics. If they had any leadership quality about them they would come through our doors and meet with us—that would be the better way of dealing with us, but to have spies running around—how much resources are they spending on us?” said Chief Alphonse.
With files from Mychaylo Prystupa.
Correction made: first edition suggested all 600 events were spied on. After receiving response from government, the story has been updated to reflect that the exact number of events monitored with surveillance is not known.