It was 10:32 p.m. on the eve of a series of Idle No More protests when the updated Canada Border Services Agency briefing was circulated.
Sent to agency management on Jan. 4, 2013, the briefing said major protests were expected the next day, Saturday, in several regions, with the largest slated for the Cornwall crossing in Ontario. Other demonstrations might have a "limited impact" on border crossings elsewhere in Ontario, the Pacific region and the prairies. A CBSA situational report submitted earlier in the day predicted the sun would shine on demonstrators at the Cornwall crossing, but that a windchill of -15 – coupled with requirements around identity documents – might dampen turnout.
"Although protests conducted under the Idle No More banner remain peaceful, there is the potential for violence the more they impact the public," the briefing warned, later adding: "Our position should a 'mob' become aggressive is to withdraw and secure the building and all staff."
The briefing outlined what amounts to a sort of CBSA rules of engagement on Idle No More, with directives for on-duty border officers that included the following: "DO NOT put personal safety at risk to protect property," "DO NOT engage in crowd control," "DO NOT put maintaining operations ahead of personal safety of officers or clients."
"Proper crowd control requires special training, special equipment and sufficient numbers which we do not have," the briefing said.
The briefing and situational report were obtained through an Access to Information request, asking for CBSA correspondence on heightened scrutiny of aboriginals entering Canada at the peak of the Idle No More movement. The reports, briefings, communications materials, meeting minutes and e-mails give insight into the agency's real-time approach to handling Idle No More – a movement one intelligence unit manager said had support, at least on Facebook, from many other groups, "even the 'Pirate Party of Canada.'"
Hundreds of protesters held peaceful demonstrations across Canada on Jan. 5, with some protests disrupting cross-border travel, including along the Seaway International Bridge near Cornwall and Sarnia's Blue Water Bridge, also in Ontario. Both were temporarily shut down as a public safety precaution, the Canadian Press reported at the time.
The CBSA's priorities that day, as outlined in the Jan. 4 briefing, were the safety of agency personnel and property, the safety of those crossing the border and their property, and maintaining operations. Border officers were to report any incidents to a superintendent, cooperate with protesters as much as possible and "take note" of anyone damaging public or private property.
A Jan. 4 afternoon email sent to CBSA regional directors also said districts must submit situational reports – even if it says "NIL," with no incidents to flag – at several prescribed times throughout the day on Saturday.
The border agency culled information from social media, estimating, for example, that the Jan. 5 Cornwall protest would attract 800-1,100 demonstrators (it reportedly attracted a few hundred). During the period spanning Dec. 30, 2012, to Jan. 4, 2013, the agency monitored media coverage of the aboriginal rights movement, including by the Cornwall Standard Freeholder newspaper and North Country Public Radio, a New York-based station. It also crafted a social media strategy for itself, with ready-to-go English and French tweets to address possible border disruptions.
"XXX POE is currently occupied by a protest. Avoid the area and use XXX POE instead," one approved CBSA tweet read, referring to points of entry. Another one read, "CBSA's priority remains the smooth and safe flow of legitimate traffic across Canada's border."
The Access to Information request also included CBSA correspondence with Citizenship and Immigration Canada regarding this country's position on Mohawk identification documents presented at the border. The majority of people who use the Cornwall crossing are residents of a Mohawk territory that straddles myriad jurisdictions, including the U.S., Canada, Ontario, Quebec and New York.
Pointing to the 1794 Jay Treaty as evidence of border-crossing rights, some aboriginals maintain they should be allowed to present Mohawk identification or a Haudenosaunee passport, issued by the Iroquois Confederacy, as proof of their right to enter Canada.
The January, 2013, correspondence explains the CBSA doesn't accept Mohawk identification as proof of a person's right to enter Canada, but noted it will accept certificates of Indian Status, which are issued by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The border agency had other issues on its radar in late 2012 and early 2013, too. A daily brief dated Dec. 31, 2012, listed as a "hot issue" that the Ontario Provincial Police had intercepted a dozen Romanian nationals "suspected to be associated with an irregular arrival" (they went on to seek refugee status, the brief notes). A daily brief dated Jan. 16, 2013, meantime, mentioned an uptick in Cubans seeking entry into Canada, the U.S. and Mexico after a liberalization of travel policy went into effect in Cuba.
There was also the matter of reality television: Minutes from a CBSA Operations Management Committee conference call on Dec. 31, 2012, listed this among the topics of discussion: "Storyline/scenario ideas for 'Border Security' show requested" – a reference to a documentary T.V. series chronicling the work of Canadian border officers.
Kathryn Blaze Carlson is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.