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Greenpeace activists use LED lights to denounce the Harper government's environmental policy in Ottawa on Nov. 28, 2011, the opening day of the UN climate-change summit in Durban, South Africa. (Greenpeace/The Canadian Press)
Greenpeace activists use LED lights to denounce the Harper government's environmental policy in Ottawa on Nov. 28, 2011, the opening day of the UN climate-change summit in Durban, South Africa. (Greenpeace/The Canadian Press)

Security services deem environmental, animal-rights groups 'extremist' threats Add to ...

Federal security services have identified Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the kind of “multi-issue extremist” groups that pose a threat to Canadians, documents obtained under Access to Information show.

In a series of documents from 2005 to 2009, the RCMP and CSIS assess “threats from terrorism and extremism” and report growing concerns about environmental and animal-rights groups, as well as militants from first nations.

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“Multi-issue extremists 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,” says a November, 2008, assessment prepared by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Critics say the Harper government is blurring the lines of counterterrorism to target legitimate opponents of resource developments such as the Northern Gateway project, which will bring bitumen pipelines and massive oil tankers to British Columbia’s rugged coast. And they worry that new legislation designed to give police access to individual Canadians’ personal Internet information will increase surveillance of environmental groups that support acts of civil disobedience.

“With a lot of the government’s rhetoric around Gateway and the government’s frequent use of ‘radicalism’ and ‘extremism’ to characterize opposition, these kinds of [counterterrorist]categories are used to justify a surveillance campaign,” said Jeff Monaghan, a Queen’s University sociologist who co-authored a paper on the threat assessment after receiving the documents under the Access to Information Act.

“Certainly from what we’ve seen, a lot of political opponents – and vocal political opponents like eco groups – have been classified this way, and it did legitimize surveillance campaigns against them.”

The Harper government has lashed out at radical environmental groups that seek to block resource development, and use funding from foreign sources to undermine what the government sees as Canada’s national interest.

In a paper for Police and Security Journal, Mr. Monaghan and his co-author, Kevin Walby from the University of Victoria, argue Ottawa’s security services have blurred threat categories, “leading to net-widening where a greater diversity of actions are governed through surveillance processes and criminal law.”

Under such headings as “environmental extremism” and “domestic extremism,” the threat-assessment reports note a variety of instances of sabotage and threats from “extremist” groups, including pipeline bombings in northern British Columbia and violent protests at major international meetings.

They cite an effort by Greenpeace Canada to block the gate at Ontario’s Pickering nuclear power plant, and its trespassing at the Muskeg River bitumen mine owned by Royal Dutch Shell to protest oil sands development.

CSIS analysts also highlight PETA’s opposition to the Canadian seal hunt and report the organization’s plan to launch a website that portrays the mascot of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as “bloodthirsty seal killers.” And they note PETA’s threat to boycott Canadian maple syrup.

Echoing those internal intelligence assessments, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced last week a new anti-terrorism strategy that identifies as threats eco-extremists, animal-rights radicals and anti-capitalists, as well as white supremacists and foreign terror groups.

Mr. Toews’s office did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment. But after the minister released the national counterterrorism strategy last week, his director of communications said the government is not targeting legitimate dissent.

“Terrorist action occurs when an extremist ideological group plans to carry out a violent attack that reasonably can be expected to kill people or destroy property,” Michael Patton said in an e-mail.

Greenpeace Canada executive director Bruce Cox said his group is committed to non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

“This is part of the government’s attitude that ‘you’re either with us or against us,’” Mr. Cox said. “We do not pose a threat to public safety and we are not a violent threat.”

A spokeswoman for PETA was unapologetic about the group’s activities.

“If it is extreme to oppose bashing in the heads of baby seals, anally electrocuting chinchillas for a coat collar, scalding chickens to death in defeathering tanks, and poisoning cats in cruel lab experiments, then so be it,” said Jane Dollinger, the group’s Washington-based spokeswoman.

Editor's note: People for Ethical Treatment of Animals does not endorse vandalism or illegal protests. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.



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