by Gary Porter
The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) is a heavily funded spy agency. With a $500 million (CDN) annual budget, it operates gunslinger-style, spying on Canadians and others it considers a security risk, gathering information from the dozens of innocent people their suspects contact, such as friends, relatives, neighbours and co-workers. This information is fed into a data analysis program where CSIS purports to develop an understanding of the lifestyles and personality profiles of “targets”.
CSIS collects intelligence information and conducts open and covert investigations and operations within Canada and abroad. As a measure of their objectivity, in 2017, several CSIS members accused the organization of having a racist and homophobic workplace culture.
CSIS collects information illegally, stores it illegally and shares it in very questionable ways. CSIS is expressly forbidden by law from collecting information on peaceful activists involved in legal advocacy, speech or protest. But CSIS has always done exactly that.
On July 8, CBC reported that the B.C. Civil Liberties Association released thousands of heavily redacted documents by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) concerning allegations the agency had spied on peaceful protesters of the now-defunct Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
The BCCLA has uploaded all the documents to a searchable website.
The CSIS-disclosed documents had been held under a confidentiality order (recently expired) by the Security Intelligence Review Committee [SIRC], Canada’s spy agency watchdog. SIRC is a committee of five federal government appointees who are legally independent of CSIS, but chosen from people with security experience and a strong predisposition towards the CSIS argument that security should trump privacy and democratic rights.
“What we’ve now received is a huge volume of secret evidence that we didn’t get to see at all before,” said Paul Champ, a lawyer with Champ and Associates representing the BCCLA.
Champ told CBC’s Early Edition host Stephen Quinn the documents show over 500 CSIS reports about individuals or groups who had been protesting the pipeline proposal.
“[It] raises concerns that this isn’t about national security, but it’s about protecting the economic interests of Canada’s energy sector and, in our view, that’s completely beyond CSIS’ mandate,” he said. The association further claimed the information was being shared with the National Energy Board and the petroleum industry.
CSIS also routinely shares information about Canadians with the so called Five Eyes group — Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, a body known in some circles as the Anglo-Saxon mafia.
The civil liberties association first challenged CSIS’ actions in 2014 with a complaint to SIRC alleging the agency was spying on pipeline opponents. During private hearings with SIRC, CSIS disclosed the now-available documents.
The complaint was dismissed, however, when the review committee concluded that information had been gathered on peaceful protesters only as a by-product of investigations into legitimate threats, not as the goal.
The BCCLA has been working to overturn the watchdog’s dismissal decision in Federal Court.
The newly disclosed documents reveal Canada’s spy service routinely welcomed reports from the energy industry about perceived threats and kept such information in its files for future reference.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is supposed to retain only information that is “strictly necessary” to do its job. The spy agency is now facing questions about whether it collected and retained material about groups or people who posed no real threat.
“This is something we don’t expect to experience here in Canada,” says Alexandra Woodsworth with Dogwood BC.
Especially concerning, she says, is how the documents suggest CSIS shared their information with fossil fuel companies.
“Our tax dollars are being used to spy on Canadians to benefit the fossil fuel industry,” said Woodsworth. “A government that appears to be working more to safeguard the interests of big oil than to safeguard the interests of its citizens.”
“Spying on people who are participating in public processes — and then giving that information to the oil industry — is an illegal attack on democracy.”
The question is: Do workers and oppressed peoples in Canada need an agency, whose daily work is to spy on opponents of corporate greed, corruption, pollution, exploitation and oppression? As long as CSIS exists it will violate our democratic and constitutional rights in support of capitalism.