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TORONTO—The Canadian government has been orchestrating briefings that provide energy companies with classified intelligence from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP and other agencies, raising concerns that federal officials are spying on environmentalists and First Nations in order to provide information to the businesses they criticize.
The secret-level briefings have taken place twice a year since 2005, and are detailed in documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, and in publicly-available government files.
The draft agenda for one of the briefings, acquired by The Dominion, shows that the RCMP and CSIS assisted the department of Natural Resources in organizing a daylong event on November 25, 2010, at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, and a networking reception the previous night at the Chateau Laurier.
The focus of the classified briefing was on "the geopolitics of the Arctic," but there were also presentations on topics including cyber-security, intellectual property rights and the Toronto G20 summit. Speakers at the event were from the RCMP and CSIS, as well as the Department of National Defence and Public Safety Canada. Two presenters had their names and affiliations redacted from the document.
Attendees were also given the option to review selected classified reports. However, note-taking at the event was prohibited.
Natural Resources spokesperson Jacinthe Perras stated that the classified briefings enable the owners and operators of energy infrastructure, “to plan and develop measures to protect their facilities.”
In an email to The Dominion, Perras explained that the department is mandated to “engage with partners and key stakeholders” by federal policy such as the National Strategy and Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure.
This plan is based on the concept that some infrastructure is so vital to the functioning of the country that it deserves special protection. Ten critical infrastructure sectors are identified including finance, transportation, health care and energy. For each sector a government department has been charged with fostering relationships with partners, including through the sharing of information. Natural Resources is the lead department for the energy sector.
"These forums provide excellent opportunities for energy sector stakeholders to develop ongoing trusting relations which facilitate the exchange of pertinent information 'off the record,'” writes Felix Kwamena, a director of energy infrastructure security at Natural Resources, in a 2010 summary of various governments’ efforts to protect energy installations.
But groups protesting energy projects such as the tar sands have misgiving about this cozy relationship.
“I see a worrying trend of blurring the lines between government security apparatus and the private sector,” said Keith Stewart, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “What we are seeing is government working at the behest of these big multinational corporations, rather than seeing themselves as a regulator of those companies in the public interest.”
“They have created this security culture where there is no separation between the federal government, and the fossil fuel sector,“ said Clayton Thomas-Muller, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, a group fighting for the rights of Indigenous people around the world and a vocal opponent of tar sands projects.
Thomas-Muller and Stewart both told The Dominion that they are concerned that groups opposing energy projects may be spied upon by intelligence agencies that report on their activities to energy companies.
“We know [Greenpeace] have been surveilled...and we also know we have had undercover officers attend our trainings,” said Stewart. “The concern for me is if they are doing this to hand over information to the private sector.”
“Natural Resources Canada does not monitor these groups nor does it provide information on them to private companies,” Perras asserted.
However, the perceived threat to energy infrastructure by organizations and First Nations opposing energy projects was revealed in an academic paper by Jeff Monaghan and Kevin Walby who exposed a CSIS document from 2008 that claims, “Multi-issue extremists [including environmental groups] and Aboriginal extremists may pursue common causes, and both groups have demonstrated the intent and the capability to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure in Canada."
“I have no doubt whatsoever that there are active files on dozens and dozens of First Nations who are quite simply asserting their rights to title over their traditional lands,” said Thomas-Muller.
He pointed to revelations that an RCMP unit was tasked with monitoring First Nations communities with the potential to engage in protests. Operating between 2007 and 2010, the unit sent their weekly report to roughly 450 recipients, including energy companies.
The Mounties say they’re just doing their job.
“The RCMP is required to produce and disseminate criminal threat assessments and other criminal intelligence related to critical infrastructure protection,” explained Greg Cox, a spokesperson for the RCMP. He maintained that “no personal information is shared,” and that “the sharing of criminal information between law enforcement and the private sector is nothing new.”
CSIS declined to comment for this story.
However, documents released to The Dominion show that a component of CSIS, the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC), has been writing intelligence reports on environmental groups.
An August 2010 ITAC intelligence document on the 2010 World Energy Congress, which took place in Montreal the following month, notes that "companies such as Shell, Encana, Enbridge, to name a few are amongst conference participants who have been subject to demonstrations in the past."
It goes on to state that "pro-environmental groups...intend to stage what they refer to as an 'emergency forum on energy,'" specifically naming the group Mouvement Sortons le Quebec du Nucleaire, an organization challenging nuclear energy plans in the province. The document also names Climate Action Montreal, a group that held a climate camp to train activists opposed to the tar sands.
The ITAC documents were of a lower security clearance than the classified information being provided at the Natural Resources briefings.
“There should be a lot more transparency,” Stewart said. “We are not saying they need to be publicizing all of the results of their investigation, but if they are going to be working closely with the private sector and sharing that information with them and granting them security clearance, Canadians have a right to know.”
The names of the companies invited to attend the classified briefings have never been revealed. However, the former Minister of Natural Resources, Gary Lunn, boasted at the 2007 International Pipeline Security Forum that his ministry had “sponsored over 200 industry representatives in obtaining Secret Level II security clearance. This enables us to share information with industry and their associations.”
A 2006 report by Natural Resources names the industry associations with which its energy infrastructure protection division liaised. These included the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents nearly 100 oil and gas companies including Shell and Suncor; and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, which represents companies such as Enbridge and TransCanada and the Canadian Nuclear Association.
In addition to holding briefings, Natural Resources also distributed reports to the energy sector that contained “unclassified information and intelligence” and were shared with “approximately 300 stakeholders three to five times every week,” according to an internal review.
The classified briefings even touched on seemingly unrelated topics such as the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto. An internal RCMP email dated October 21, 2010, reveals that Natural Resources requested the RCMP provide a review of the G20 summit at a briefing taking place the following month.
“This didn't make a lot of sense to me because of course the G20 and the protest against it happened in Toronto, and the energy companies are based in Calgary. There isn’t any energy infrastructure in downtown Toronto,” said Stewart.
During the classified briefing, held November 25, 2010, RCMP Staff Sergeant John Shoemaker reported to energy companies on intelligence efforts to protect the Summit.
The G20 intelligence unit employed surveillance, monitoring and undercover infiltration of protest groups including First Nations and environmental groups. They showed a keen interest in Greenpeace’s activities. However, PowerPoint slides from Shoemaker’s presentation made no direct mention of Greenpeace or any other environmental or First Nations group, beyond listing “issue specific extremism/activism” and “Aboriginal activism” as a “public order” threat.
Although the presentation did not deal specifically with energy infrastructure, Perras said the “report helped inform the development of an all-hazards approach to critical energy infrastructure protection.”
Stewart doesn’t think that intelligence agencies should be focusing their energies on non-violent groups like Greenpeace.
“The only threat we pose is the threat to change peoples minds, and changing public opinion—and I understand why oil companies might be worried about that. I understand why government might be worried about that, but I think that is a fundamental part of democracy and they just have to learn to live with free speech,” declared Stewart.
He believes the Harper government is trying to demonize groups opposed to energy projects. He pointed to legislation that was introduced to increase the budget for the auditing of environmental organizations, a document that lists “environmental NGOs” and “Aboriginal groups” as adversaries, an increased budget for the auditing of environmental organizations, and a commentary by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who warned that environmental groups ”threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”
“In terms of democracy, you need a separation of oil and state. We need to separate the private interest of corporations from [the] interest of Canadians, and we’re seeing a lot of blurring of that line,” said Stewart. “The government seems to be saying what is good for companies like Shell or Enbridge is good for Canada. We think that is an important debate in a democracy."
Tim Groves is an investigative researcher and journalist based in Toronto. He can be reached at timgrovesreports [@] gmail.com. For more information on his work and writing, click here.
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.