Canada’s terrorism assessment centre kept close watch on Occupy protests throughout the country last year, monitoring potential economic disruption and support from hacker group Anonymous.
Critics say it’s disturbing that the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), which is tasked with monitoring domestic and international terrorist threats, kept tabs on peaceful protests.
Three ITAC reports about Canadian Occupy protests were obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access to information request. The reports were distributed by the centre, which is housed within Canada’s spy agency, to the intelligence community, police and “critical infrastructure stakeholders” in the private sector.
The first report was penned eight days before demonstrations began on Oct. 15. It gave an overview of the planned demonstrations meant to replicate Occupy Wall Street, a protest against corporate greed.
Although the initial report contained widely known information, lawyer and executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association David Eby said it is the report’s existence that’s worrisome. “When you treat dissent as a terrorist threat, it acts functionally as a disincentive for citizens to engage in the political process,” he said.
Mr. Eby’s association had legal advisers monitor Vancouver’s demonstrations, which saw protesters camp out at the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza for about a month. He said Vancouver police were able to manage the civil disobedience but ITAC’s involvement was dangerous.
“When you increase the hype around the security threat of active dissent by citizens, including protests, you also increase the potential justifications for very invasive policing,” Mr. Eby said.
ITAC creates between 300 and 400 reports every year, Canadian Security Intelligence Service spokeswoman Tahera Mufti said in an e-mail. The centre was created in 2004 and changed part of its name from “threat assessment” to “terrorism assessment” last year.
“While ITAC does not report on peaceful protest and dissent, its focus on the Occupy events was to assess the potential for politically motivated violence,” Ms. Mufti said.
Once the protests began, ITAC created two more reports. Two days after Anonymous posted a YouTube video threatening the City of Toronto with cyber attacks last November, ITAC produced a report, parts of which were redacted in the version released to The Globe.
“In the video, ‘Anonymous’ stated that Toronto would be ‘removed from the Internet’ if the city fails to leave the protesters alone,” the report said. It goes on to detail past threats from Anonymous, as well as suggesting that “individuals or sympathizers” may be identified as those wearing Guy Fawkes masks.
The last report is about protesters in Vancouver attempting to disrupt operations at the Port of Vancouver. It said organizers warned “the duration of the blockade will be increased” if police tried to stop it. “A blockade, or even a disruption of day-to-day activity, would lead to some economic damage,” the report said, but due to the “fractured nature” of the protest the movement wasn’t expected to attract more than 300 attendees or disrupt the port.
Jeff Monaghan, a Queen’s University sociologist who co-authored a paper on the threat assessment, said the Harper government is increasingly blurring the lines between terrorism and dissent that results in economic loss. He obtained a series of threat assessments from 2005 and 2009 that report growing concerns about environmental and animal-rights groups.
“These are explicitly pacifist organizations that have never attacked any kind of civilian, so to group this within the national security anti-terrorism network is really problematic,” Mr. Monaghan said.
Because Canada is a relatively peaceful country and there are few terrorist threats, Mr. Eby said intelligence agencies “need to justify their existence. So what we see increasingly is the conflation between dissent and terrorism. Occupy Vancouver was a lot of things but it wasn’t a terrorist threat.”
Protester Farshad Azadian, a volunteer organizer of Toronto’s protest last fall, said the monitoring was “obscene” and demonstrates one of Occupy’s mantras about government spending. “Do I think it’s a good use of resources?” he said. “Of course not.”
Follow us on Twitter: