Environmental and aboriginal groups opposed to Enbridge Inc.'s proposed pipeline across British Columbia say federal law enforcement agencies are spying on them and they want the "intimidating and anti-democratic" practices stopped.
In a news conference on Thursday, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association announced it has filed complaints with the agencies overseeing the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The BCCLA said it appears that covert agents monitored meetings and other activities of the pipeline opponents who participated in the National Energy Board hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway project, and that CSIS and the RCMP then shared their intelligence with the oil industry and the NEB.
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the complaints to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees CSIS, and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, are based on documents released by the media last year.
Much of that material, reported on by The Vancouver Observer, the CBC and The Guardian, was redacted, said Mr. Paterson, but enough was there to show environmentalists and native groups were under scrutiny by Canada's spy agency.
"There are things in the documents that are very suggestive of covert means being used. We can't conclude that because there's things blacked out. ... That's why we're asking for an investigation," he said. "What we're hoping here is to find out more about what's happening."
He said he suspects CSIS and the RCMP shared information with Natural Resources Canada as well as the industry and the NEB.
In a statement sent by e-mail, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said he did not direct any such security measures, but he understood why police might be interested in protest groups.
"The safety of Canadians is a priority for our government. As part of its commitment to safety, the National Energy Board may conduct a security assessment prior to a regulatory hearing," he said. "The NEB will often work with the RCMP to protect the safety of everyone involved. Neither I, nor any member of my department, gave instructions to any federal agency in this matter."
An Enbridge spokesman said the company will not comment as the complaints are directed at CSIS and the RCMP.
Tehara Mufti, a spokesperson for CSIS, said the agency does not comment on specific complaints, but "what I can say is that CSIS investigates – and advises government on – threats to national security, and that does not include peaceful protest and dissent."
Corporal David Falls said the RCMP has not officially been informed of the complaint and will not comment except to say the force would fully co-operate with an inquiry.
One document under scrutiny by the BCCLA is an agenda for a "classified briefing for energy and utilities sector stakeholders" that was held by Natural Resources Canada. That meeting, according to a report in The Guardian, featured presentations by RCMP and CSIS representatives.
In its complaint, the BCCLA also states the NEB got RCMP briefings about groups making submissions at the Northern Gateway hearings and that was of concern because "such information sharing may compromise these groups' ability to participate fully and effectively before the NEB."
The BCCLA said the documents show the RCMP had informants at environmental meetings, including one in a church basement in Kelowna at which people hand-painted signs.
"It's hard to believe this is Canada," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. "We take great exception to being spied up by the RCMP, by CSIS...clearly our democratic rights have been affected. It's a sad day for this country."
Will Horter, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, said spying on people participating in a federal pipeline review is "anti-democratic, it's very likely illegal and, most disturbingly, it's a complete abuse of power."
While the NEB hearings were often the focus of peaceful protests, the review was also set against the backdrop of six bombs that exploded on natural gas pipelines in B.C. in 2008-2009. Those bombings were never solved.