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TORONTO—The federal government created a wide-ranging surveillance network in early 2007 to monitor protests by First Nations, including those that would garner national attention or target “critical infrastructure” like highways, railways and pipelines, according to RCMP documents obtained through access to information requests.
Formed after the Conservatives came to power, the RCMP unit’s mandate was to collect and disseminate intelligence about situations involving First Nations that have “escalated to civil disobedience and unrest in the form of protest actions.”
According to an RCMP slideshow presentation from the spring of 2009, the intelligence unit reported weekly to approximately 450 recipients in law enforcement, government, and unnamed “industry partners” in the energy and private sector.
A RCMP spokesperson said the unit was never considered “permanent” and that last year it was “dismantled as it was determined to be no longer needed by its clients.” But the Mounties can’t say if the work is continuing in the field.
“Since the dismantling of the Aboriginal JIG [Joint Intelligence Group], the work done by the JIG is no longer performed at RCMP HQ Criminal Intelligence [CI]. However, we cannot confirm that RCMP divisions are not performing Aboriginal JIG activities under another name of program.”
An annual Strategic Intelligence Report, dated June 2009, indicates the surveillance at the time focused on eighteen “communities of concern” in five provinces across the country. These included First Nations in Ontario such as Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), Ardoch, Grassy Narrows, Six Nations and Tyendinaga, which have made headlines over the last few years for road and railway blockades and opposition to mining and logging on their territories.
The report states that the causes of unrest are “common issues” that could “seriously impact” Aboriginal peoples across the country—issues such as poverty, lack of funding for child and family services, and disputes over sovereignty, resource extraction and environmental concerns.
The so-called Aboriginal JIG that gathered the surveillance was run by the RCMP Criminal Intelligence branch and the RCMP’s National Security Criminal Investigations (NSCI), which has teams of officers in strategic locations across the country that deal with “threats to national security and criminal extremism or terrorism.”
It billed itself as a “central repository” of information about First Nations protest activities, assisted by an “extensive network of contacts throughout Canada and internationally” and an undisclosed number of field operatives acting as its “eyes and ears.”
The list of private sector businesses receiving weekly reports was chosen by the RCMP NSCI's Critical Infrastructure program, though the RCMP refused to share any of their names. Businesses also provided the intelligence unit with information about "current criminal threat environment for their facilities," according to the RCMP spokesperson.
Its yearly strategic intelligence report “identifies individuals who are causes of concern to public safety,” but any mentions of individuals were redacted in the copy obtained via access to information.
News of this RCMP surveillance comes on the heels of revelations that the Aboriginal Affairs ministry has spied on Cindy Blackstock, a long-time advocate for aboriginal children. In October it was also revealed that the Canadian military is keeping tabs on Aboriginal organizations. Alongside Aboriginal Affairs’ on-going “hot spots” surveillance, it suggests a massive, coordinated scaling-up of surveillance of Aboriginal peoples by the Harper government.
According to a previously obtained copy of a RCMP presentation to the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry in March 2007, the “vast majority” of the monitored protests and actions are “related to lands and resources,” and “most are incited by development activities on traditional territories” of First Nations.
As Canada has undergone a shift towards a more resource and especially energy based economy, industry has come increasingly into conflict with Aboriginal communities who claim rights over many of the lands exploited for mining, forestry and oil, and often oppose such development for environmental reasons.
The Mining Association of Canada has noted in a publication that “[m]ost mining activity occurs in northern and remote areas of the country, the principal areas of Aboriginal populations.”
The spectre of heightened Aboriginal protest has become a source of anxiety for government and industry.
An RCMP presentation to CSIS from April 2007 states, “There is a growing concern among high-level governmental officials and the policing community about the potential for unrest in Aboriginal communities, and an increasing sense of militancy among certain segments of the Aboriginal population.”
Recent political stand-offs have proved this concern to be prescient.
A high-profile $5.5 billion Enbridge pipeline that would carry tar sands oil to the Pacific through northern British Columbia has hit a wall of Indigenous opposition, whose “constitutional and legal position” former Cabinet minister Jim Prentice has called “very strong.” In the same province, the Tsilhqot’in Nation have to date blocked the controversial New Prosperity gold and copper mine, which would have turned a lake they consider sacred into a tailings dump.
In northern Ontario in 2008, the KI First Nation prevented Platinex from establishing a platinum mine on their traditional territory; Platinex's mining claim was eventually bought out for $5 million by the McGuinty government.
When shown the RCMP documents, KI Chief Donny Morris expressed surprise and said he and his community were "insulted", remarking that there is “nothing extreme” about protecting their territory.
Morris and five of his councillors served more than two months in jail for peacefully blocking Platinex, before an Ontario Court of Appeal released them and directed the provincial government to negotiate with the First Nation.
“Protecting the land is a mandate from the Creator that we must fulfill physically and spiritually,” he said. “There is no reason to make us into criminals just for protecting what we believe in.”
Although the Strategic Intelligence Report’s profile of KI is heavily redacted, as with all the “communities of concern,” it states that KI First Nation “remains committed to ensuring their concerns related to the impacts of mining and forestry are addressed by the Ontario government” and “possible future disputes could result in blockades and demonstrations.”
The Strategic Intelligence Report notes that environmental concerns often spark confrontations with aboriginal communities: “Mining, oil drilling, logging, garbage dumps, construction of dams, highways, and expanding the industries such as the oil sands can produce permanent impacts on the land, resources and people.”
The report makes mention of other legislation and policies that are a source of “unrest,” including the Matrimonial Real Property Initiative currently being legislated by the Conservative government, which it states “will not address the real issues faced by some Aboriginal families.”
“The documents indicate the government is aware of the harmful impacts of their policies and actions,” said Russell Diabo, an independent Aboriginal policy analyst who has seen the RCMP documents. “But when some Aboriginal communities are refusing to accept these policies, the theft of their resources or pollution of their lands, the government [is] criminalizing them rather than resolving the human rights violations which are the root of the protests."
While doing surveillance on selected First Nations, the RCMP unit also assessed the “unique opportunities for civil disobedience” in 2010.
According to the report, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Paralympics and torch relays, and the G20 summit in Toronto could be “leveraged by Aboriginal communities and groups who support Aboriginal issues to draw attention to outstanding issues and grievances” and to “garner national and international attention.”
These events, ongoing “unresolved issues in many Aboriginal communities, and the pattern of convergence among activists groups,” contribute to “increased uncertainty and concern” and the “potential for large numbers of protestors attending these major events, and the potential for violence and criminal acts.”
One of the central tasks of the RCMP intelligence unit was to closely monitor protests against “critical infrastructure”—blockades of highways and roads, and demonstrations, protests, or gatherings “concerning energy sector development.”
The 2009 strategic intelligence report states that it assesses acts outside the category of “legitimate dissent.”
In what may be a pitch to the private sector, the RCMP slideshow presentation states that the Aboriginal intelligence unit can "alleviate some of your workload as we can help identify trends and issues that may impact more than one community." It can also "provide information on activist groups who are promoting Aboriginal issues within your area."
“The JIG was an essential tool that helped us gather information to understand if in fact critical infrastructure was at risk in certain areas,” the RCMP spokesperson wrote in an email. “This in turn helps the RCMP attain its goal of safe homes and safe communities, which includes Aboriginal communities.”
The “communities of concern” were chosen based on such potential factors as “militants operating within the community," “threats against critical infrastructure,” “external influences like activists groups, government policies, [and] major events,” and a “history of violence.”
But the documents note that “within the last 12 months, no violent acts” occurred, and that "overall, occupations and protest in Canada associated to Aboriginal communities have experienced low levels of violence."
The yearly report lays out infrastructure in proximity to First Nations by province. Though heavily redacted, it reveals an exhaustive detailing of protests targeting road, railways, and pipelines, classifying them as "incidents."
This includes the targeting of oil sands developments such as the legal challenges of oil sands concessions on their territory undertaken by the First Nations of Fort Chipewyan and the Woodland Cree.
In their report to CSIS, the RCMP acknowledge the risks posed by the targeting of infrastructure, mentioning the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga’s high-profile blockade of the CN rail line between Toronto and Montreal in the spring of 2007: “The recent CN strike represents the extent in [sic] which a national railway blockade could effect the economy of Canada.”
“The federal government is afraid of First Nations disrupting the economy in order to demand their constitutionally-protected rights to lands and resources,” said Diabo. “So when communities take action on the ground, the government is using the RCMP and security agencies politically to control and manage First Nations and ensure they acquiesce to unjust legislation and policies or imposed negotiation process.”
Documents show the Aboriginal JIG and a separate Joint Intelligence Group that was set up for the G8 and G20 summit in Huntsville and Toronto were in contact with each other up into 2010. The G8/G20 JIG, which was recently reported to have placed undercover police officers in activist groups for more than a year, was one of the largest domestic intelligence operations in Canadian history.
“Judging by the intensified surveillance initiated by the Harper government, there is every reason to believe the RCMP is continuing its spying alongside other government departments, likely under another name,” said Diabo.
Martin Lukacs is a writer and activist, and a member of the Dominion editorial collective. Tim Groves is an independent researcher and journalist in Toronto.
The RCMP slide show presentation can also be downloaded here:
The 2009 Strategic Intelligence Report can also be downloaded here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/74792393/AboriginalJIGreport2009-10
The 18 First Nations identified as "communities in concern" in 2009:
- Barriere Lake
- Grassy Narrow First Nation
- Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug
- Munsee-Deleware NAtion
- Shabit Obaadijwan and Ardock Algoquin First Nation
- Six Nationa of the Grand River
- Peguis First Nation
- Roseau River First Nation
- Red Pheasant First Nation
- Community of Fort Chipewyan
- Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
- Woodland Cree First Nation
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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.