Why CSIS Spying on Environmentalists Is Completely Unsurprising

The security agency was found to have been spying on environmental advocates and prioritising industry objectives over human rights

(Kristen Frier)

After years of fighting to escape a gag order, the BC Civil Liberties Association published a huge collection of documents which they say reveal that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had been illegally spying on environmental advocates and Indigenous groups opposing the now-defunct Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

It’s reasonable to expect that CSIS would be used as a tool to protect Canadian sovereignty—which, to an extent, should absolutely include business interests and industry—but in this case, the agency was being used to proactively monitor citizens because of their opinions and their opposition to an environmentally destructive pipeline project

Arguably, this surveillance undercuts all four articles in the Fundamental Freedoms section of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms: the right to freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association. Being a free citizen and being spied on by the government are not compatible concepts.

The organization, which is supposedly dedicated to maintaining Canadians’ safety and protection, was instead used to support the economic values of the fossil fuel industry over the fundamental rights of citizens.

It might sound alarmist to some to call this out as a slippery slope. I’d argue that it’s naïve not to.

The released documents, which the BCCLA have called the Protest Papers, are so full of blacked-out squares of redactions and censorship that the reports look more like the Black Flag logo than a cohesive collection of information.

Most of the time, when government organisations keep secrets like this from the public, it’s because they understand that the electorate would never condone or consent to these decisions. People value their rights and freedoms. Rights and freedoms are a vital part of what makes this living in this country worthwhile.

One of the most classic ways to obscure legislation that violates people’s rights and freedoms is to justify it by connecting it to national security, which the previous Conservative government did, and the current Liberal government tentatively supported.

Anyone who recalls Bill C-51, the Anti Terrorism Act, which passed its second House reading in 2015, might remember how people were afraid that it expanded the powers of CSIS in ways that singled out environmental advocates, protestors, and blockades.

There were anti-Bill C-51 rallies in Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto, and other political parties denounced the bill, saying that the language was too broad and that it opened the door for CSIS to circumvent human rights. Even Amnesty International weighed in with a scathing response that explicitly predicted that, five years after the Bill’s implementation, CSIS would be caught doing the exact thing that people were worried about.

A few weeks ago, their prediction came true. It even came a year earlier than they expected.

Politicians love to use the idea of defending against terrorism as a way to incite fear in the public and reduce their ability to think rationally. Governments use it as a way to pass policies that clear-headed people know are bullshit. It’s an age-old tactic historically employed to consolidate power for reasons unrelated to the betterment of citizens’ lives.

Much like the U.S. did with the infamous Patriot Act, Canada’s federal government uses these moments of public fear and confusion to shoehorn policies into legislation which step on human rights in the name of “national security.”

It’s always about power. And, in this case, that power was used to prop up industry objectives over the rights of people whose ultimate goal is to save the planet from a total climate crisis.

It’s completely backwards, and without organizations like the BCCLA to blow the whistle on practices like this, our rights and freedoms could, slowly but surely, erode over time without us even knowing it.

The BCCLA said it best: “These findings show that the issue at hand is bigger than this one case. This is about government accountability, and about our right to question those in power.”