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Police surveillance stifles climate justice activism, supports fossil fuel interests

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Image: Sally B. Tuck/Flickr

This blog is part one of a series looking at corporate interference in democracy and quashing of public protest. Read the secnd part here.

Democratic institutions of all kinds are being misused for the interests of fossil fuel companies. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is using public funds and public service employee capacity to think about how to root out and crush groups that are building a movement toward a sustainable future that provides opportunity and care for all people.

Kenney's is not the first government to try to paint those working for a fossil-free future as deviants, criminals or traitors -- in 2012, Joe Oliver, then-minister of natural resources, labelled us "radical groups" seeking to "hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda." The irony of this statement is not lost on me. 

Oliver's statements were really formative for me personally -- they came immediately after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Durban in 2011, which I attended as a youth delegate. There I had witnessed Canada back out on the Kyoto Protocol and announce the approval of a $9 billion tar sands mine (it was then shelved in 2014 and purchased by CNRL in 2018). I remember standing in the airport in Toronto waiting for my luggage, exhausted from the disappointment that is international climate negotiations, and reading the news, and I saw this op-ed where Oliver slandered people like me for doing our best to stop fossil fuel interests from torching the planet with impunity. A few months later, the accusation that all climate activism was being funded by foreign interests came into vogue. 

So it's not very surprising to me that since the Harper era, police and security forces like the RCMP and CSIS have been used to track water protectors and climate justice activists and organizations, and other right-wing governments have taken up the mantle of accusing climate justice movements of being funded by foreign ideologues. Not surprising, but anti-democratic and disturbing.

Case study: CSIS and RCMP sharing information with Enbridge

In brief, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) made a complaint to the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) in 2014 alleging that CSIS was monitoring groups like Idle No More, Dogwood Initiative and the Sierra Club of British Columbia because they had been active in the struggle against the Northern Gateway pipeline. Heavily redacted documents from this case were recently released and show that many more organizations were being monitored than initially thought, including the Council of Canadians. The monitoring results were being shared with Enbridge, the company behind the pipeline. CSIS is only meant to monitor groups undertaking activities that pose a threat to "public security," and as BCCLA argues in the released documents none of the groups have any history "whatsoever of advocating, encouraging or participating in violent or other criminal activity." 

CSIS is meant only to track and store data on relevant threats to public security. This begs the question of whose version of public security is behind these motives. Further, there are explicit rules for CSIS only to keep information that is "strictly necessary" for it to do its job; this does not include keeping tabs on people who are totally within legal rights to have an opinion and express it through speech, protest, art, etc.

Case study: Kenney's war room and inquiry into "foreign-funded groups"

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has launched a $2.5 million inquiry into the "well-funded foreign campaign targeting our energy industry," according to CTV News. This is just part of the Kenney government's $30 million "war room" established to "to lobby on behalf of the province's oil and gas sector." For me, this harkens back to Harper's massive effort to audit environmental organizations and assess their political activity, further paralyzing these organizations from doing the work of creating and defending environmental protection policy.

While Kenney's latest move does not explicitly include police surveillance of water protectors and climate justice activists, it can help us understand the varied ways that public funding can be leveraged in support of the fossil fuel industry without being a direct subsidy or tax break. It demonstrates the diverse ways that corporate interests have infiltrated our democratic institutions.

Case study: RCMP monitoring anti-fracking activists in Mi'kma'ki/New Brunswick

During the epic battle to stop fracking in the Siknuktuk district of Mi'kma'ki, eastern New Brunswick, the RCMP designated Indigenous rights demonstrations as a "National Tactical Intelligence Priority." They wrote a report known as Project Sitka, which compiled information collected through monitoring the anti-fracking struggle and deemed 89 individuals as so-called threats, many of whom were Indigenous water protectors. Read more about that here. Though we have seen a heavily redacted version of the Project Sitka report, complainants have never seen the Civilian Complaint Report initiated by anti-fracking activists six years ago in 2013.

These are just three of myriad examples of public institutions being used at the behest of fossil fuel interests, demonstrating a clear capture of our democracy by this polluting industry. Of interest today is the use of police and surveillance forces to stifle and make ineffective social movements. The so-called "war on terror" of the last few decades has been used to expand police and surveillance forces to turn their eyes on domestic groups, including Indigenous, Black and other marginalized communities that resist extractive industries and mainstream economic policy that worsens inequality. 

In each of these three cases, the types of actions and strategies that have led to surveillance programs and smear campaigns are the types of activities the Council of Canadians engages in regularly: working in coalitions to build powerful movements, sometimes across state borders; speaking up in partnership with many other organizations to demonstrate our unity and power; hosting rallies and demonstrations; supporting frontline Indigenous resistance to extraction and other direct action; and engaging in legal strategies to assert our rights and hold governments and industry to account. All of these strategies are reasonable responses to the type of injustice our communities face by way of extractive industries and the dissolution of other means of democratic engagement. And now, these activities are being limited and made more dangerous by way of police surveillance. 

So what can we learn from these stories? Read my latest article "Public Security and Interest: Which Public? Who Decides?" on the Council of Canadians blog.

Please help us see the RCMP investigation report released -- send an email to Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

This blog is part one of a series looking at corporate interference in democracy and quashing of public protest. Read the secnd part here

Robin Tress is the Climate and Social Justice Campaigner with The Council of Canadians. This blog originally appeared on the Council's blog.

Image: Sally B. Tuck/Flickr

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