Aboriginal leaders are outraged after secret documents revealed that police have been keeping tabs on critics of Enbridge Corp.’s Northern Gateway pipeline.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reports show that police monitored British Columbia aboriginal groups, warning of “an increasing propensity and likelihood of utilizing blockades and confrontation.”
The Aboriginal Policing Services Monthly Intelligence Reports, obtained by the Toronto Star, come after Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver labeled pipeline critics “radical groups,” and the government’s 2011 admission that it had spied on aboriginal child advocate Cindy Blackstock. As it turns out, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper began monitoring various First Nations groups soon after taking office in 2006, focusing on what were thought to be areas of potential unrest.
“This creates a very deep sense of a lack of safety,” said Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief to the Assembly of First Nations. “A lack of security creates mistrust and frustration. It’s completely the wrong approach. Indigenous peoples’ rights are real rights. They’re not rights that should be trampled on or shunned aside, because our people will simply not stand for that.”
Police said they used “open source” information from Google, social media and aboriginal leaders, and that covert methods are used only in criminal investigations, not to monitor communities.
“To use the term spying or surveillance is really sensationalizing it. If any of the information in the documents had been source information, like confidential informants, intelligence or surveillance, it wouldn’t have been released,” said Supt. Paul Richards, RCMP Deputy Criminal Operations Officer in British Columbia. “We’re not spies, we’re police officers. We have to be aware if there’s an issue in a community developing into a standoff or legal issue … [to] make sure things stay peaceful, that people are using and exercising their legitimate right to protest, and it’s not turning into something much more serious—a serious situation in which anybody could get hurt.”
One target was the Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of five First Nations, with surveillance that included monitoring a November 2011 private meeting with environmentalists.
“To find out the police have enough time and energy to watch peaceful protest, I’m angry that they’re not doing their actual work, keeping our people safe and secure,” said Saik’uz First Nation Chief Jackie Thomas, a Yinka Dene Alliance. “All the protests we’ve been doing have been done in peace. We’re not there to rabble-rouse or to be violent. It’s a David and Goliath situation.”
Historian Gary Kinsman, a Laurentian University sociology professor, said Canada’s spying on dissidents has “lots of precedents.”
“It seems like meetings between indigenous groups and environmental groups are now a matter of national security,” he said. “The escalating rhetoric against (them)—especially when they come together—is setting these groups up for more security policing. It is targeting them and justifying possible denials of democratic rights for people engaged in these social struggles.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said he found it “deeply disturbing.”
“Without question it’s a giant step backward,” he said. “There was a time when the RCMP was exposed for being involved in so-called dirty tricks—provocateurs and so on. As opposed to a healthy relationship between the government of Canada and First Nations, this is what’s happening behind the scenes.”
But Thomas said her pipeline opposition remains undeterred.
“We’re waking up this country,” she said. “We need to be able use our freedom still—we still have free speech to voice our opinion and disagree—instead of just accepting whatever our government does.”