Aboriginal protests watched by CSIS

Posted by admin on Jun 27th, 2008

Stewart Bell,  National Post. Published: Thursday, June 26, 2008

TORONTO — Canadian security officials kept a close watch on aboriginal rights protests across the country last summer, fearing violence and disruption, according to newly declassified government documents. Intelligence reports obtained by National Post reveal for the first time how the Canadian government tracked “ongoing and planned protests” by First Nations and their supporters from British Columbia to the Maritimes. The Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, based at CSIS headquarters and made up of representatives of CSIS, the RCMP, Canadian Forces and other departments, circulated lists of protestors’ plans in a series of intelligence reports.

The Government Operations Centre was also involved. It coordinates the national response to terrorist attacks, natural disasters and anything else that threatens the safety and security of Canadians or the integrity of Canada’s critical infrastructure.

“A number of ongoing aboriginal protests and planned actions [are] set to take place over the summer of 2007,” ITAC says in a report marked “secret,” one of several released to the Post under the Access to Information Act.

“While the intention of these actions is to highlight grievances through peaceful protest, past protests have demonstrated that acts of violence or disruptions of critical infrastructure are possible.”

The close government scrutiny of the events suggests that, following fatal stand-offs at Oka and Ipperwash, federal security agencies remained concerned about the potential for violence.

The intelligence reports show officials were particularly concerned about the National Day of Action held last June 29 to pressure Ottawa to address the grievances of Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Some chiefs had called for road and rail blockades on that day.

Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” to learn the federal government was monitoring the National Day of Action, and he wondered how much the surveillance and policing had cost.

“Whatever the cost, our view is that money would have been far better spent on providing the more than 100 First Nations communities with boil-water advisories with clean drinking water, alleviating poverty and settling our legitimate land claims,” Chief Fontaine said. “Perhaps if that was the case, then there wouldn’t be a need to hold a National Day of Action in the first place.”

According to the documents, security officials were concerned “a small minority” of demonstrators could escalate the protests “as a means of attracting attention to their cause.” Sympathetic environmentalists, “social issues extremists” and criminal groups could also exploit the protests, the reports say.

The reports identify planned protests in Toronto by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, in Montreal by No One is Illegal and Block the Empire, and by anti-Olympic activists in Vancouver.

“In addition to these, there are also non-aboriginals who may oppose the aspirations of the aboriginals (local residents, cottagers, fishermen, etc. and also white supremacists and other extremists),” it adds. “These factors may cause instability and drive an individual protest in unpredictable ways.”

ITAC began producing weekly threat assessments on the demonstrations last May. It began distributing daily intelligence updates the week of the National Day of Action. In total, 22 reports were produced.

In addition to the events tied to the day of action, the threat assessment reports tracked four on-going aboriginal land protests in Caledonia, Deseronto, Grassy Narrows, and Cross Lake, Man.

“There are also a series of other potential causes for aboriginal protests over the summer of 2007. These include fishing and logging disputes, especially in the Maritimes; various development projects affecting aboriginal communities; and the preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics.”

The reports say the right to protest “is a cornerstone of Canada’s democratic society. ITAC is concerned only where there is a threat of politically motivated violence, or where protests threaten the functioning of critical infrastructure.”

National Post

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