The RCMP has labelled the “anti-petroleum” movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government’s new terrorism legislation.
In highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.
“There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,” concludes the report which is stamped “protected/Canadian eyes only” and is dated Jan. 24, 2014. The report was obtained by Greenpeace.
“If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment.”
The government has tabled Bill C-51, which provides greater power to the security agencies to collect information on and disrupt the activities of suspected terrorist groups. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has identified the threat as violent extremists motivated by radical Islamic views, the legislation would also expand the ability of government agencies to infiltrate environmental groups on the suspicion that they are promoting civil disobedience or other criminal acts to oppose resource projects.
The legislation identifies “activity that undermines the security of Canada” as anything that interferes with the economic or financial stability of Canada or with the country’s critical infrastructure, though it excludes lawful protest or dissent. And it allows the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service to take measures to reduce what it perceives to be threats to the security of Canada.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has already launched challenges to the RCMP complaints commission and the Security Intelligence Review Committee – which oversees the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – over alleged surveillance of groups opposed to the construction of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in B.C.
“These kind of cases involving environmental groups – or anti-petroleum groups as the RCMP likes to frame them – are really the sharp end of the stick in terms of Bill C-51,” said Paul Champ, a civil liberties lawyer who is handling the BCCLA complaints. “With respect to Bill C-51, I and other groups have real concerns it is going to target not just terrorists who are involved in criminal activity, but people who are protesting against different Canadian government policies.”
RCMP spokesman Sergeant Greg Cox insisted the Mounties do not conduct surveillance unless there is suspicion of criminal conduct.
“As part of its law enforcement mandate the RCMP does have the requirement to identify and investigate criminal threats, including those to critical infrastructure and at public events,” Sgt. Cox said in an e-mailed statement. “There is no focus on environmental groups, but rather on the broader criminal threats to Canada’s critical infrastructure. The RCMP does not monitor any environmental protest group. Its mandate is to investigate individuals involved in criminality.”
But Sgt. Cox would not comment on the tone of the January, 2014, assessment that suggests opposition to resource development runs counter to Canada’s national interest and links groups such as Greenpeace, Tides Canada and the Sierra Club to growing militancy in the “anti-petroleum movement.”
The report extolls the value of the oil and gas sector to the Canadian economy, and adds that many environmentalists “claim” that climate change is the most serious global environmental threat, and “claim” it is a direct consequence of human activity and is “reportedly” linked to the use of fossil fuels. It echoes concerns first raised by Finance Minister Joe Oliver that environmental groups are foreign-funded and are working against the interests of Canada by opposing development.
“This document identifies anyone who is concerned about climate change as a potential, if not actual – the lines are very blurry – ‘anti-petroleum extremist’ looking to advance their ‘anti-petroleum ideology,’” said Keith Stewart, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace.
“The parts that are genuinely alarming about this document are how it lays the groundwork for all kinds of state-sanctioned surveillance and dirty tricks should C-51 be passed,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada said Bill C-51 does not change the definition of what constitutes a threat to Canadian security, and added CSIS does not investigate lawful dissent.
“CSIS has a good track record of distinguishing genuine threats to the security of Canada from other activities,” Public Safety Canada’s Josée Sirois said. “The independent reports of the Security Intelligence Review Committee attest to CSIS’s compliance with the law.”