When the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) dedicated countless INAC staff and thousands of dollars to spying on Cindy Blackstock — I think most of us in Turtle Island gave our heads a shake.

While it has been known for some time that Canada spies on our Indigenous leaders and community members who defend our lands, I don’t think most of us were aware that any First Nation advocate was a target. This is what shocked me the most — that Canada’s “national security” laws are so broad as to make someone like Cindy Blackstock an enemy of the state

If someone were to ask me who was the LEAST likely to be spied on by Canada, I would have said Cindy Blackstock because for anyone who knows Cindy or her work, they know she is a peaceful, law-abiding citizen with a big heart. Her only alleged “subversive” or “hostile” act against Canada is that she peacefully advocates on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society: First Nations children.

Cindy does not do her advocacy by riding in on combat helicopters or tanks — but instead runs the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society, donates her free time to spreading information and speak publicly about the realities faced by First Nations children, and is now running the Have a Heart campaign to raise money for First Nations children. 

(I know I include a lot of links in my blogs, but please click on the above link and read about the Have a Heart campaign and do what you can to support her efforts.)

The level to which Cindy was spied on by INAC is also quite surprising. For a department whose mandate it is to improve the lives of First Nations peoples, but claims to have no money for housing, water and basic necessities for First Nations — they sure spent a great deal of time attending Cindy’s events, spying on her personal Facebook page (not her public one), and reporting to both INAC and Justice Canada about her activities. They even violated her most private information by accessing her registration records and that of her family. Incredibly, INAC has been doing this for some time, so the costs must be astronomical.

So, what was INAC’s response to all of this? Minister John Duncan said there would be a probe into whether or not government officials broke privacy rules

However, it is important to note that the “probe” will be headed by Duncan’s deputy minister. Once the public knew that the DM was one of the many INAC employees who were copied on the surveillance reports on Cindy, we knew any “probe” would be a complete sham. For a government that complains about lack of transparency and accountability by First Nations — here INAC is having one of their spies investigate whether they were improperly spying — can anyone guess what the outcome will be?

This whole situation made me wonder about my own situation and whether my work qualifies me as “hostile” or “subversive”. My advocacy activities have always been peaceful and mostly consist of volunteer activities like sharing information through social media, speaking engagements, working with individuals and community members on a wide range of Indigenous legal, cultural, social and political issues, training sessions, publications, appearing before the House and Senate on legislation impacting our people and organizing powwows.

I still wondered whether this would garner the attention of the multi-layered, well-funded, spy industry within Canada. So, I made an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request to CSIS, INAC, RCMP and DND for any and all records, reports, security assessments, surveillance reports, etc. that they might have in relation to me and my work.

To date, only CSIS has responded.

In the CSIS letter of Dec.8, 2011, they refer to three different types of information: (1) Security Assessments/Advice; (2) CSIS Service Records; and (3) CSIS Investigational records. On the first set of information they provided me with some records of assessments done when I worked at INAC and Justice Canada, but refused to disclose other material, stating:

“Portions of the material have been exempted from disclosure by virtue of section 15(1) (as it relates to the efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities) of the Act.”

For the second part, they confirmed they have no service records in relation to me (no surprise there) and for the third type of information they stated that they would “neither confirm nor deny that the records you requested exist.” However, they did say that even if such records do exist, they would not release them to me anyway as part of their efforts in “detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities”.

So, the moral of the story is that they have at least one type of file on me, and that they would not release the whole file so as to protect Canada from my alleged “subversive or hostile” activities. This, to me, is like being judged without knowing what I am accused of, and then being sentenced to ongoing spying on undisclosed activities for an undetermined amount of time so as to reduce the security risk to Canada in relation to my peaceful Indigenous advocacy activities.

If Canada’s national security laws permit such broad surveillance of our activities — then my question is what First Nation activities are NOT considered a potential threat to Canada? I would like to know how much money across all federal departments are allocated to spying on First Nations people? I would also like to compare that to the costs to provide housing, water and basic necessities of life to First Nations in need. I am guessing that I would not be entitled to this information either.

In my previous blogs, I wrote about INAC issuing contracts to people to spy on First Nation elections and Facebook users.

More than empty promises

Secret agent Harper

From savages to terrorists

Then, The First Nations Strategic Bulletin (FNSB) which came out in Dec. 2011 explained how after the Conservatives came to power, the RCMP created the Aboriginal Joint Intelligence Group (JIG), partnering with the ENERGY and PRIVATE SECTOR to spy on First Nations. First Nations like Six Nations, Tyendinaga and others were all targeted. The JIG was run by RCMP Criminal Intelligence Branch and the RCMP National Security Criminal Investigations (NSCI) which deal with: “threats to national security and criminal extremism or terrorism”.

Most shockingly was that FNSB also reported that the RCMP shared their surveillance reports with private businesses and that private businesses shared information with the RCMP about First Nations.

The irony of the situation is so outrageous. It was Canada and its Indian agents that were hostile and subversive to our peoples — not the other way around. It is we who have premature deaths, worse health, less education, less employment and less access to land and resources. It is we who continue to suffer the inter-generational effects of their colonial laws and policies which STILL exist today.

Can you get any more hostile that the over-apprehension of our children from our communities at three times the rate of residential schools? Or that some of federal prisons are populated100 per cent by Indigenous inmates or that the Indian Act still provides for our legislative extinction dates?

Yet, we are supposed to be appeased when representatives of Canada speak about moving forward, looking ahead, and reconciliation. How can First Nations be expected to come to the table with any hope of making real progress when their treaty “partner” comes to the table alleging good faith but with no less than four federal departments spying on our people and treating us like we are terrorists on our own lands?

But will any of these important issues make it to the agenda for the First Nations-Crown Summit in January? Of course not. In case you haven’t noticed, very little of the core issues are on the table for discussion and resolution. Instead the agenda consists of program areas like economic development, education and accountability — important issues, but all ones which could easily be addressed by directors and a commitment to equitable funding. Issues like self-determination, First Nation jurisdiction, equitable funding, fair share of the land and resources, recognition of our treaties and Indigenous rights are all OFF the agenda.

So, I will wait to see what information about my files I get from the RCMP, DND and INAC, and will also wait and see if National Chief Shawn Atleo addresses any of these fundamental relationship issues with Canada. But in the meantime, my bet is on our grassroots people and the youth in turning this situation around and taking back control over our own lives.



Pamela Palmater

Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi’kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and is the Ryerson...