Harper government's extensive spying on anti-oil sands groups revealed in FOIs

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Photo: flickr/chrisyakimov

The federal government has been vigorously spying on anti-oil sands activists and organizations in B.C. and across Canada since last December, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show. 

Not only is the federal government subsidizing the energy industry in underwriting their costs, but deploying public safety resources as a de-facto "insurance policy" to ensure that federal strategies on proposed pipeline projects are achieved, these documents indicate.

Before the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel hearings on the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline, the NEB coordinated the gathering of intelligence on opponents to the oil sands.

The groups of interest are independent advocacy organizations that oppose the Harper government's policies and work for environmental protections and democratic rights, including Idle No More, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, EcoSociety, LeadNow, Dogwood Initiative, Council of Canadians and the People's Summit.

Image courtesy of Vancouver Observer. Click to enlarge.

Mandated as an "independent federal agency," the NEB directed the police protection of their board members and officials from Enbridge and TransCanada Corporation, 140 pages of emails from December 2012 through April 2013 show.

In the emails, Richard "Rick" Garber, the NEB's "Group Leader of Security," marshals security and intelligence operations between government agencies and private interests, and says in a January 31, 2013 email that the NEB "Security Team has consulted today with Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) at national and regional levels; RCMP at national, regional and local levels."

Image courtesy of Vancouver Observer. Click to enlarge.

"The Security Team, together with our police and intelligence partners, will continue to monitor all sources of information and intelligence," he says.

The documents show the NEB working with CSIS and the RCMP to make "security plans" for the Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Prince Rupert hearings and actively coordinating with officials from Enbridge and TransCanada Corporation and a private security contractor hired by the NEB.

They also show Garber asking Sgt. Steinhammer of the Prince Rupert RCMP to provide a visible uniformed presence during the hearings there to deter "illegal activities."

Image courtesy of Vancouver Observer. Click to enlarge.

Sustained opposition to pipelines noted, especially in B.C.

On April 20, 2013, an email entitled "Security Concerns -- National Energy Board" was sent to integrated security officials, and stressed the continued protection of NEB and private interests. The memo was from Tim O'Neil, Senior Criminal Intelligence Research Specialist with the RCMP, and then circulated to the NEB and associated stakeholders by Garber.

"There continues to be sustained opposition to the Canadian petroleum and pipeline industry," O'Neil said.

"Opposition is most notable in British Columbia, with protests focused on the: Enbridge Northern Gateway; Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion; the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing, and proposed LNG facilities. Opponents have used a variety of protest actions (directed at the NEB and its members) to draw attention to the oil sands' negative environmental impact, with the ultimate goal of forcing the shutdown of the Canadian petroleum industry."

Image courtesy of Vancouver Observer. Click to enlarge.

O'Neil then ordered the escalation of RCMP and CSIS intelligence measures following the opening of an SPROS/SIR database file. According to the Government of Canada, SPROS is the new National Security Program’s primary database for the electronic storage, retrieval and management of national security criminal investigations and information, and on a required basis, classified criminal intelligence and other sensitive cases.

"It is highly likely that the NEB may expect to receive threats to its hearings and its board members," O'Neil, said. However, in the same memo he states that there is "no intelligence indicating a criminal threat to the NEB or its members" and "I could not detect a direct or specific criminal threat."

In closing, O'Neill advises recipients to discuss their concerns with the security officials at the National Resources May 23 classified briefing.

"What is particularly chilling about the Harper administration's approach is the conversion of government agencies to private spy agencies for private sector corporations," Green Party Leader, Elizabeth May said, upon learning about the emails. "What is unacceptable is the marginalization, demonizing and threat of criminalization of healthy debate in a democracy."

On May 23, 2013, Natural Resources Canada hosted a "Classified Briefing for Energy & Utilities Sector Stakeholders" in collaboration with CSIS and the RCMP at CSIS's headquarters in Ottawa.

Image courtesy of Vancouver Observer. Click to enlarge.

The briefing has occurred twice annually since 2005 and its stated purpose is to discuss national security and criminal risks to critical energy infrastructure. Attendees include government officials, federal ministries, law enforcement agencies and energy stakeholders with high-level security clearances. These meetings have been described as an opportunity for government officials and companies to exchange information "off the record" and form "ongoing trusting relationships" in the protection of national energy infrastructure.

An agenda obtained by Tim Groves and Martin Lukacs at The Guardian last month revealed that breakfast, lunch and coffee was sponsored by Enbridge and a networking reception held at the Chateau Laurier was co-hosted by Bruce Power and Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners. Meetings during this conference included "challenges to energy projects by environmental groups."

Image courtesy of Vancouver Observer

Given proof of CSIS and RCMP intelligence resources being afforded to the NEB, and evidence of disclosure across the private sector, it is undetermined how much information is being provided to corporations such as Enbridge and TransCanada Corporation, and to what extent international entities such as CNOOC are also benefiting.

Since coming to power, Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has used his government apparatus to serve a natural resources development agenda, The Guardian recently wrote, "while creating sweeping domestic surveillance programs that have kept close tabs on indigenous and environmental opposition and shared intelligence with companies."

"Harper has transformed Canada's foreign policy to offer full diplomatic backing to foreign mining and oil projects, tying aid pledges to their advancement and jointly funding ventures with companies throughout Africa, South America and Asia."

The National Energy Board has no spying mandate, according to its website, but serves to function as a regulatory agency over the gas and oil industry, answering to Parliament and the Canadian people.

Correction:  a previous version of the article attributed the May 22, 2013 agenda to have been obtained by the CBC. It was obtained by The Guardian and provided to CBC afterward. 

This article originally appeared on Vancouver Observer and is reprinted with permission.

Photo: Photo: flickr/chrisyakimov

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