Criminalization of Dissent The Ottawa Citizen Sat 18 Aug 2001
The complete 5
part series on "the criminalization of dissent"
Keeping the public in check: Special Mountie team, police tactics
threaten right to free speech and assembly, critics say; Police
targeting ordinary Canadians 'because they don't like their politics'
The Ottawa Citizen Sat 18 Aug 2001 News A1 / Front Series David Pugliese
and Jim Bronskill
Faced with a growing number of large demonstrations, the RCMP has
quietly created a special unit to deal with public dissent.
The new team of Mounties, called the Public Order Program, was
established in May to help the force exchange secret intelligence and
information on crowd-control techniques with other police agencies,
according to an RCMP document obtained by the Citizen.
The RCMP's move to strengthen its capacity to control demonstrations
comes amid increasing concern about how the government and police
respond to legitimate dissent.
The new unit will also examine how to make better use of "non-lethal
defensive tools," such as pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas,
indicates the document, a set of notes for a presentation to senior
Mounties earlier this year.
Select officers will be run through a "tactical troop commanders'
course" to prepare them for dealing with public gatherings.
The Public Order Program is intended to be a "centre of excellence"
handling large demonstrations, allowing the Mounties to keep up with the
latest equipment, training and policies, said RCMP Const. Guy Amyot, a
force spokesman. "It gives us some more tools to work with."
The initiative, sparked by a spate of ugly confrontations between
protesters and police at global gatherings, comes as Canada prepares to
host leaders of the G8 countries in Alberta next year.
"With all the violence going on, we had to create a unit that could help
us (with) providing security," said Const. Amyot.
But for some, the right to free speech and assembly in Canada has become
precarious at best. The recently released APEC inquiry report focused
on certain questionable RCMP activities during the 1997 gathering of
Asia-Pacific leaders in Vancouver, including the arrest of demonstrators
and use of pepper spray. Almost overlooked in the review, however, was
an apparent shift in police and government attitudes toward a
"criminalization of dissent."
Behind the scenes, law enforcement agencies are directing their efforts
at organizations and individuals who engage in peaceful demonstrations,
according to civil rights experts. The targets are not extremists, but
ordinary Canadians who happen to disagree with government policies.
Officers from various police forces and the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service have infiltrated, spied on or closely monitored
organizations that are simply exercising their legal right to assembly
and free speech. Targets of such intelligence operations in recent
years, according to federal documents obtained by the Citizen, range
from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent to the Raging Grannies, a senior
citizens' satire group that sings about social injustice.
Individuals have been arrested for handing out literature condemning
police tactics. Large numbers of Canadians and legitimate organizations,
from the United Church of Canada to Amnesty International, have found
themselves included in federal "threat assessment" lists alongside
actual terrorist groups.
And in what some consider blatant intimidation, RCMP and CSIS agents are
showing up unannounced on the doorsteps of people who voice opinions
critical of government policy or who plan to take part in
In coming weeks, the Canadian Association of University Teachers will
meet in Ottawa with senior RCMP officials to express grave concerns in
the academic community about campus visits by the Mounties.
The meeting arises from the police force's questioning of Alberta
professor Tony Hall about his views on the spring Summit of the Americas
in Quebec City. A University of Lethbridge academic, Mr. Hall wrote an
article critical of the effect of free trade agreements on indigenous
people and was involved in organizing an alternative summit for
aboriginals. Neither warranted a visit from police, say his colleagues.
"Whether you agree with him or not, I think he has the right to raise
those questions," says David Robinson, associate executive director at
the association of university teachers.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has led calls for an
investigation into allegations police abused their powers by firing more
than 900 rubber bullets and using 6,000 cans of tear gas to subdue
protesters at the Quebec City summit in April. Also of concern for the
association is the possibility police targeted individuals even though
they were non-violent.
Others, such as University of British Columbia law professor Wesley Pue,
say police operations against legitimate dissent have already crossed
"When the police start spying on people because they don't like their
politics, you've gone a long way away from what Canadian liberal
democracy is supposed to be about," says Mr. Pue, editor of the book
Pepper in Our Eyes: The APEC Affair.
Such notions are rejected by police and politicians. Quebec government
officials have dismissed a call for a public inquiry into how officers
treated protesters at the Quebec City summit. Quebec Public Security
Minister Serge Menard summed up his attitude shortly before the summit:
"If you want peace," he said, "prepare for war."
CSIS officials maintain they don't investigate lawful advocacy or
dissent. The RCMP say they are simply doing their job in the face of
more violent protests at public gatherings.
For his part, federal Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay doesn't see
anything wrong with the RCMP questioning Canadians who want to take part
In a July 31 letter to the university teachers' association, he defended
Mountie security practices for the Quebec City event. "The RCMP
performed ongoing threat assessments, which included contacting,
visiting and interviewing a number of persons who indicated their
interest or intention in demonstrating."
But civil rights supporters contend such statements miss the point.
Merely signalling interest in attending a demonstration or openly
disagreeing with government policies -- as in Mr. Hall's case and others
-- shouldn't be grounds for police to question an individual. They say
actions by police and CSIS over the last several years appear to have
less to do with dealing with violent activists than targeting those who
speak out against government policies.
For instance, in January, police threatened a group of young people with
arrest after they handed out pamphlets denouncing the security fence
erected for the Quebec City summit as an affront to civil liberties.
Officers told the students any group of people numbering more than two
would be jailed for unlawful assembly. A month later, plainclothes
police in Quebec City arrested three youths for distributing the same
pamphlet. Officers only apologized for the unwarranted arrests after
media reported on the incident.
In the aftermath of the Quebec City demonstrations, some protesters were
denied access to lawyers for more than two days. Others were detained or
followed, even before protests began.
Police monitored the activities of U.S. rights activist George Lakey,
who travelled to Ottawa before the summit to teach a seminar on
conducting a peaceful demonstration. Mr. Lakey was questioned for four
hours and his seminar notes confiscated and photocopied by Canada
Customs officers. Later, a Canadian labour official who offered Mr.
Lakey accommodation at her home in Ottawa was stopped by police on the
street and questioned for 30 minutes.
Const. Amyot insists the RCMP recognize the right of people to
demonstrate peacefully. "We have always said that, and we do respect
However, the events leading up to Vancouver's 1997 Asia-Pacific Economic
Co-operation summit set the stage for what some believe is now an
unprecedented use of surveillance by the Mounties and other agencies
against lawful groups advocating dissent. Before and during the APEC
meetings, security officials compiled extensive lists that included many
legitimate organizations whose primary threat to government appeared to
be a potential willingness to exercise their democratic rights to
Threat assessments included a multitude of well-known groups such as the
National Council of Catholic Women, Catholic Charities U.S.A.,
Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council of Churches, the
Council of Canadians and the International Centre for Human Rights and
Intelligence agencies also infiltrated legitimate political gatherings.
A secret report produced by the Defence Department, obtained through the
Access to Information Act, details the extent of some of the spy
missions. It describes a gathering of 250 people on Sept. 12, 1997, at
the Maritime Labour Centre in Vancouver to hear speeches by former NDP
leader Ed Broadbent and New Democrat MP Svend Robinson. "Broadbent is
extremely moderate and cannot be classified as anti-APEC," notes the
analysis, prepared by either CSIS or a police agency. "The demographics
of the crowd was on average 45-plus, evenly divided between men and
women. They were 95 per cent Caucasian and appeared to be working class,
east end, NDP supporters."
Additional reports detailed a forum by the Canadian Committee for the
Protection for Journalists and meetings planned by other peaceful
Law enforcement's notion of what constitutes a threat to government is
disturbing to some legal experts. Law professor Wesley Pue notes that
anyone's politics can be deemed illegitimate to those in power at some
point in time. He sees irony in the recent mass protests against federal
stands on trade and the environment. "The so-called anti-globalization
movement articulates many views that were official Liberal party policy
up until the government got elected," says Mr. Pue.
Police tactics used four years ago at APEC have since become commonplace
at almost all demonstrations. Criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby has noted how
police have found a way to limit peaceful protests. Demonstrators don't
get charged for speaking publicly. Instead they are arrested for
obstructing police if they don't move out of the way. In most cases,
charges aren't laid or they are later dropped because of a lack of
evidence. In the meantime, police usually insist bail conditions
stipulate demonstrators stay away from a protest.
"We've made it so easy for governments to criminalize behaviour and
speech they don't like," Mr. Ruby said around the time of the Quebec
City summit. "They disguise the fact that they're punishing free
Another disconcerting trend, according to civil liberties specialists,
is the police practice of photographing demonstrators, even at peaceful
rallies. Earlier this year, a whole balcony of cameras collected images
of the non-violent but lively crowd outside the Foreign Affairs
Department in Ottawa.
"There is now the idea that you can't be an anonymous participant at a
public gathering," says Joel Duff, a protest organizer and former
president of the University of Ottawa's graduate students association.
"If you're not ready to have a police file, then you can't participate
-- which in my view is a curtailment of your democratic rights."
The RCMP's Const. Amyot acknowledges police take photos of
demonstrators, even if a protest is peaceful. The pictures can be used
in court if the event turns violent, he notes.
But photos from peaceful demonstrations are destroyed, according to
Const. Amyot. "We're not investigating these people," he says.
are just being taken to ensure if something happens we'll know what
happened so we'll have evidence for safety purposes."
But such tactics can have chilling effect on lawful dissent. After it
was revealed at the APEC inquiry that intelligence agencies spied on the
Nanoose Conversion Campaign because of its stand against nuclear
weapons, some of the B.C. organization's members started having second
thoughts about their involvement, even though the group conducted only
"There was a concern (among some) about whether the government could
make their life difficult," says Nanoose Conversion Campaign organizer
It is not only in Canada that official reaction to vocal public
opposition is being questioned. The Italian government's inquiry into
the handling of the demonstrations at the recent Genoa summit of G8
leaders conceded that police used excessive force and made serious
errors in dealing with protesters.
One incident being probed by Genoa prosecutors is an early morning raid
on a school used by demonstrators as their co-ordination centre. People
were beaten with clubs as they slept and the school was trashed by
officers. Sixty-two demonstrators were injured, and government officials
have recommended firing the senior police officers involved.
Police in the U.S. are also using tactics similar to their Canadian
counterparts, such as pre-emptive arrests, surveillance and the
infiltration of groups.
Hundreds of activists were jailed last year in advance of protests
against the Republican Party in Philadelphia and Washington. Most of the
cases were later dismissed by the courts since police could offer no
valid reasons for the arrests.
Last year, undercover officers posing as construction workers
infiltrated a warehouse in Philadelphia where demonstration organizers
were making puppets as part of their protests against the Republican
Party. Seventy puppet-makers were charged with various offences, but
again, the courts dismissed the counts. At the same time, police were
monitoring the Internet activities of the puppet group.
The mass arrest of protesters, even if they aren't engaged in violence,
has also become common. Last April, Washington police rounded up 600
demonstrators marching against poor conditions in U.S. prisons. In their
sweeping arrests, officers also scooped up tourists watching the rally
from the sidelines.
Such actions, however, haven't gone unchallenged. Several lawsuits
against police forces have been filed by the American Civil Liberties
Union and the National Lawyers Guild.
In Canada, aside from comments by civil rights experts and opposition
politicians, there has been little outrage among the public or
In part this can be traced to media coverage that emphasizes the actions
of a small number of violent protesters while neglecting largely
peaceful events, says Allison North, a Canadian Federation of Students
official and rally organizer. All protesters are branded as
troublemakers, she says.
Mr. Duff, the student organizer, notes the scope of the damage at the
Quebec City summit was never put into perspective by the media and the
public was left with the notion protesters caused widespread
destruction. "The stuff that happened in Quebec City was nothing in
comparison to a regular St-Jean-Baptiste Day in Quebec. There they have
bonfires in the street whenever they can, and far more property gets
He questions whether the public can be complacent about police and
government activities in dealing with dissent. Surveillance may now be
aimed at people protesting globalization, but such methods can, and
will, be used to manage other protests, whether it be against education
cuts or reductions in health care budgets, he predicts.
Some are concerned that has already happened. In April the RCMP issued a
public apology to the townspeople of Saint-Sauveur, N.B., admitting the
force overreacted when it sent a riot squad to handle a group of parents
and children protesting the closure of a school in May 1997. Several
people were attacked and bitten by police dogs, while others were
injured after being hit by tear gas canisters or roughed up by officers.
Dozens were arrested in Saint-Sauveur and the nearby town of
Saint-Simon, but none was informed of their legal rights. All charges
were later dropped.
The APEC report condemned the fact several women protesters were forced
to remove their clothes after being arrested. But it wasn't an isolated
event. Earlier this year eight female students at Trent University in
Peterborough were arrested, stripped and searched by police. Their
alleged crime was to protest the closing of the university's downtown
Such extreme reactions tend to galvanize people, says Mr. Duff. Those
who peacefully demonstrate, only to be tear-gassed or arrested, tend to
emerge as more committed protesters, he says.
Const. Amyot says the RCMP's new Public Order Program will ensure the
safety of delegates, demonstrators and police at future summits.
Mr. Pue believes the security for major gatherings should be decided
through public debate and parliamentary scrutiny, instead of letting
police to make up rules as they go along.
For instance, there are no Canadian laws to allow for the installation
of a perimeter fence limiting the movement of protesters at
international meetings, Mr. Pue notes. Yet a large fence was built for
Quebec City and such barriers will likely be fixtures at coming events.
"That's not the kind of discretion that should be left to police
officers in secret."
- - - Cracking Down on Protesters Today the Citizen begins a major
series on what some are calling "the criminalization of dissent." In
days ahead: - Activists on Vancouver Island were surprised to learn the
police knew their tactics in advance. - Authorities added another line
to Green Party leader Joan Russow's resume: threat to national
security. - Organize a protest today and you can expect a Mountie to
knock on your door. - The APEC affair showed the RCMP is willing to go
undercover to dig up dirt.
Final Criminalizing Dissent Photo: An intelligence source relayed word
to the military that the Raging Grannies, a satirical singing group
whose protest songs are designed to raise awareness of social justice
and environmental issues, intended to hold a protest in the autumn of
1997.; Colour Photo: Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen / Faced with mass
demonstrations such as the one at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec
City in April, the RCMP decided to establish a new unit, the Public
Order Program, to find other non-lethal ways of controlling protests.
The Ottawa Citizen Spying on the protest movement: Private e-mails find
way into military hands; 'I think they enjoy the cloak and dagger stuff'
The Ottawa Citizen Sun 19 Aug 2001 News A1 / Front Crime; Series David
Pugliese and Jim Bronskill
VICTORIA -- Government agents spied on Vancouver Island peace
activists, learning of their intention to build a giant puppet of
Liberal cabinet minister David Anderson and to write a series of
newspaper letters critical of federal policies.
Heavily edited government records show plans by the Nanoose Conversion
Campaign and the satirical Raging Grannies to hold a peaceful
demonstration in October 1997 were intercepted by an unidentified
intelligence source and forwarded to the Canadian military.
The demonstrators hoped to raise concerns about visits of U.S.
nuclear-powered warships to the Nanoose torpedo test range as well as
war games being conducted off Vancouver Island. The military was tipped
off to their protest, including a suggestion to fashion an effigy of Mr.
Anderson, the senior federal minister for B.C., waving an American flag,
according to documents obtained by the Citizen.
The records, and other military documents detailing the monitoring of a
public service union and a group of Muslim students, raise questions
about the extent of government spy operations against lawful
organizations and individuals engaged in peaceful protest.
Ivan Bulic, involved with the Nanoose Conversion Campaign at the time,
says the military appears to have obtained the minutes from one of the
group's meetings. Those minutes were sent by e-mail to a very limited
number of people.
Mr. Bulic says the minutes were either intercepted in cyberspace or by
someone listening in to telephone conversations. It is also possible a
government informant had infiltrated the organization.
Either way, federal spies were wasting their time and taxpayers' money,
he says. "What we were doing, such as sending letters to newspapers and
holding an information picket outside the base gate, are completely
legal and bona fide activities," said Mr. Bulic. "Their reaction
reflects a 1950's Cold War mentality of where legitimate protests,
contrary to the military's view, are deemed a threat. We've been
classified as enemies."
The Nanoose Conversion Campaign advocates peaceful protest as a means of
trying to end visits of nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships to
Canadian waters. It often uses the courts to challenge the federal
government. Several years ago, the organization unsuccessfully launched
a legal action to prevent U.S. Navy warships from dumping pollutants
into Canadian waters. It is currently in court, contesting the federal
government's expropriation of the Nanoose torpedo test range from the
province of B.C.
Lt.-Cmdr. Paul Seguna, a Canadian Forces spokesman, said the military's
National Counter-Intelligence Unit received the information about the
protest plans from a source, but he declined to identify that individual
or agency. "In this case we were not the lead agency," said Lt.-Cmdr.
Seguna. "This information is obtained on a shared basis with other
federal agencies and police forces."
The National Counter-Intelligence Unit's job is to monitor and
counteract foreign espionage, terrorism, sabotage, criminal activity and
threats to military personnel or installations. According to a statement
from the Canadian Forces, "in the absence of a security threat (the
unit) does not collect information on individuals, legal assemblies or
However, there is evidence military spies are interested not only in
citizens who demonstrate against defence policies, but anyone who might
cast the Forces in a bad light.
In May 1998 the counter-intelligence unit turned its attention to the
Public Service Alliance of Canada, which was planning a protest against
job cuts at the Defence Department. The unit gave advance warning to
senior Defence officials of the union's intention to demonstrate during
a visit by Defence Minister Art Eggleton at a Montreal base. Although
the unit acknowledged to military commanders that such demonstrations
were usually peaceful, it recommended monitoring the situation and
working with the RCMP's criminal intelligence branch in reporting any
With no direct threat involved, why would a military spy organization be
worried about public servants gathering to protest job cuts? The
counter-intelligence report on the event, obtained by the Citizen,
provides the answer: "There is potential for public embarrassment to the
(Defence minister) given that the media has been informed" about the
demonstration, it warned.
The unit's monitoring has also extended into the realm of religious
organizations. A January 1998 threat assessment noted a group of Muslim
students from the University of New Brunswick had purchased an old
building in Moncton. The threat posed by the students, however, was
"assessed as negligible." They had turned the building into a mosque.
Intelligence analysts say the military's pre-occupation with monitoring
potential protesters stems from the Defence Department's desire to be
warned about anything that might be politically or publicly
"It's partly because they don't have the Cold War anymore so they don't
have much else to do, but also it reflects the Defence Department's new
priorities," said John Thompson, who studies terrorism trends for the
Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think tank. "If the Raging Grannies
are going to show up, DND wants to know about it first."
Such efforts are misplaced, however, suggests Mr. Thompson. "These types
of people aren't the ones who are going to be bringing Molotov cocktails
and bats to a protest march."
Raging Granny Freda Knott finds it amusing that government spies feel
they have to keep tabs on her group, a small collection of senior
citizens who sing songs to highlight social injustices.
"If they think they'll find that we're out to destroy our country then
they're very wrong," said the 65-year-old Victoria resident. "We want
make the world a better place for our grandchildren, for all
grandchildren. I don't see too much wrong with that."
Mr. Bulic says the Nanoose Conversion Campaign had an inkling it was
being spied on after the group's name was included in a threat
assessment tabled in 1998 at the inquiry into RCMP actions at the
Vancouver APEC summit. The assessment, sent to various military units,
listed the conversion campaign, the Anglican Church of Canada, Amnesty
International, the Council of Canadians and others alongside terrorist
groups as organizations that might protest or cause disruptions at the
Lt.-Cmdr. Seguna says just because a group is included in a threat
assessment does not mean it is considered a danger to the Canadian
Forces. Military intelligence officials simply compile information that
might affect security at an event. "How do you decide who not to look
at?" asks Lt.-Cmdr. Seguna. "There may be a group that generally is
threatening. But in some of these there may be sub-groups that, for one
reason or another" may participate in violence, he adds.
Documents show intelligence agencies have taken an interest in the
Nanoose Conversion Campaign and other peace groups for many years.
According to a March 1995 threat assessment by the Defence Department
such groups have been listed because they protested at military bases or
held peace walks.
A September 1997 message from National Defence Headquarters, marked
secret, ordered counter-intelligence officers in each major Canadian
city to report on any organizations involved in anti-nuclear activities,
or which planned or "advocated" a demonstration.
It's that type of mentality that worries Mr. Bulic. He can understand
the need to monitor actual terrorist groups but questions why
authorities are so preoccupied with those who exercise their democratic
right to disagree with government policies.
After the threat assessment listing the Nanoose Conversion Campaign was
made public at the APEC inquiry, Mr. Bulic wrote Mr. Eggleton asking for
an explanation of the military monitoring of a law-abiding organization.
The minister did not reply. But a short time later, Mr. Bulic received a
phone call from military intelligence officials in Ottawa. The captain
on the line wasn't about to apologize for what happened. Instead, he
demanded to know how the conversion campaign had been able to obtain
such a secret assessment.
"I think they enjoy the cloak-and-dagger stuff," says Mr. Bulic.
seems to be the only way they know how to operate."
- - - Cracking Down on Protesters Today is the second instalment in
the Citizen series on "the criminalization of dissent." In the days
ahead: - Authorities added another line to Green Party leader Joan
Russow's resume: threat to national security. - Organize a protest
today and you can expect a Mountie to knock on your door. - The APEC
affair showed the RCMP is willing to go undercover to dig up dirt.
Final Criminalizing Dissent Photo: Patrick Doyle, Ottawa Citizen / In
May 1998, Defence Minister Art Eggleton was given advance warning by the
National Counter-Intelligence Unit of a PSAC protest against job cuts.
VICTORIA The Ottawa Citizen Secret files chill foes of government:
State dossiers list peaceful critics as security threats The Ottawa
Citizen Mon 20 Aug 2001 News A1 / Front Crime; Special Report Jim
Bronskill and David Pugliese
The credentials on Joan Russow's resume are rather impressive. An
accomplished academic and environmentalist, she served as national
leader of the Green Party of Canada. The Victoria woman had also earned
a reputation as a gadfly who routinely shamed the government over its
But Ms. Russow, 62, was dumbfounded when authorities tagged her with a
most unflattering designation: threat to national security.
Her name and photo turned up on a threat assessment list prepared by
police and intelligence officials for the 1997 gathering of APEC leaders
at the University of British Columbia.
"All these questions start to come up, why would I be placed on the
list?" she asks. Mr. Russow is hardly alone. Her name was among more
than 1,000 -- including those of many peaceful activists -- entered in
security files for the Asia-Pacific summit.
The practice raises serious concerns about the extent to which
authorities are monitoring opponents of government policies, as well as
the tactics that might be employed at future summits, including the
meeting of G-8 leaders next year in Alberta.
Ms. Russow had been a vocal critic of the federal position on numerous
issues, expressing concerns about uranium mining, the proposed
Multilateral Agreement on Investment and genetically engineered foods.
Just weeks before the Vancouver summit, she gave a presentation arguing
that initiatives to be discussed at APEC would undermine international
conventions on the environment.
However, Ms. Russow went to the summit not as an activist, but as a
reporter for the Oak Bay News, a Victoria-area community paper. Security
staff questioned whether the small newspaper was bona fide and pulled
her press pass.
But the secret files on Ms. Russow suggest there may be more to the
story. She wouldn't have even known the threat list existed if not for
the tabling of thousands of pages of classified material at the public
inquiry into RCMP actions at APEC, which focused on the arrest and
pepper spraying of students on the UBC campus.
The threat assessment of Ms. Russow, prepared prior to the summit,
describes her as a "Media Person" and "UBC protest
second document drafted by threat assessment officials during the summit
characterizes Ms. Russow and another media member as "overly
sympathetic" to APEC protesters. "Both subjects have had their
Ms. Russow later complained, without success, about the revocation of
her pass. Officials with the Commission for Public Complaints Against
the RCMP concluded the RCMP did nothing wrong. But despite exhaustive
inquiries, a frustrated Ms. Russow has yet to find out how and why she
was even placed on a threat list.
The APEC summit Threat Assessment Group, known as TAG, included members
of the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Vancouver
police, the Canadian Forces, Canada Customs and the Immigration
The TAG files were compiled on a specially configured Microsoft Access
database that "proved very successful in capturing and analyzing
intelligence," says a police report on the operation, made public at the
Much of the information came from "existing CSIS and RCMP networks" as
well as Vancouver police members. Other data were funnelled to TAG by
RCMP working the UBC campus, including undercover officers and units
assigned to crowds.
By the end of the summit, the TAG database had swelled to almost 1,200
people and groups, including many activists and protesters. Ms. Russow's
photo appeared in a report alongside the pictures and dates of birth of
several other people. One is described as a "lesbian
considered "very masculine."
Several are simply labelled "Activist" -- making Ms. Russow wonder how
they wound up in secret police files. "Why are citizens who engage in
genuine dissent being placed on a threat assessment list?"
The practice of collecting and cataloguing photographs of demonstrators
is worrisome, says Canadian historian Steve Hewitt, author of Spying
101: The Mounties' Secret Activities at Canadian Universities,
1917-1997, to be published next year.
"There's tremendous potential for abuse. One would suspect that they're
compiling a database. And clearly, there's probably sharing going on
between countries," said Mr. Hewitt, currently a visiting scholar at
Purdue University in Indiana.
"Your picture is taken and it's held in a computer, and when it might
come up again, who knows?" The RCMP, CSIS and other Canadian agencies
have long shared information with U.S. officials, a cross-border
relationship that has grown closer to deal with smugglers, terrorists
and, most recently, protesters who come under suspicion.
Canada Customs and Revenue Agency staff have access to a number of
automated databases and intelligence reports that help screen people
trying to enter the country.
Several protesters who were headed to the Summit of the Americas in
Quebec City last April were either denied entry to Canada or subjected
to lengthy delays, luggage searches and extensive questioning -- and the
rationale was not always clear.
At a recent Commons committee meeting, New Democrat MP Bill Blaikie
confronted RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli and Ward Elcock, the
director of CSIS, about scrutiny of activists.
An incredulous Mr. Blaikie recounted the case of a U.S. scientist who
was questioned by Customs officials for about an hour last spring upon
coming to Canada to speak at a conference about his opposition to
genetically modified food.
"Are people being trailed, watched, interviewed and harassed at borders
because of their political views?" Mr. Blaikie asked, noting the
"chilling effect" of such attention.
The RCMP Security Service, the forerunner of CSIS, amassed secret files
on thousands of groups and individuals considered a threat to the
established order, devoting its energies through much of the 20th
century to the hunt for Communist agents and sympathizers.
The vast list of targets left few stones unturned, providing the
Mounties with intelligence on subjects as wide-ranging and diverse as
labour unions, Quebec separatists, the satirical jesters of the
Rhinoceros Party, American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, the
Canadian Council of Churches, high school students, women's groups,
homosexuals, the black community in Nova Scotia, white supremacists and
CSIS inherited about 750,000 files from the RCMP upon taking over many
intelligence duties from the Mounties in 1984. As the end of the Cold
War loomed in the late 1980s, the intelligence service wound down its
counter-subversion branch, turning its focus to terrorism.
However, the emergence of a violent presence at anti-globalization
protests has spurred CSIS to once again scrutinize mass protest
movements, working closely with the RCMP and other police.
One of the threat assessment documents on Ms. Russow lists not only her
date of birth, but hair and eye colour and weight -- or rather what she
weighed in the 1960s, perhaps a clue as to how long officials have kept
a file on her.
In 1963, a young Ms. Russow taught English to a Czechoslovakian military
attache in Ottawa. She was asked by RCMP to report to them about
activities at the Czech embassy, but refused. She surmises that may have
prompted the Mounties to open a file on her -- a dossier that could have
formed the basis of the APEC threat citation more than 30 years later.
Ms. Russow is disturbed that she learned of the official interest in her
activities only by chance. And she worries about the untold
ramifications such secret files might have.
"How many people have had their names put on the list and never know?"
Final Special Report: Criminalization of Dissent Photo: The public
inquiry into the RCMP's actions at APEC revealed a secret threat list
that labelled Joan Russow, leader of the Green Party, as 'overly
sympathetic' to protesters.; Photo: The RCMP Security Service, the
forerunner of CSIS, amassed secret files on thousands of groups and
individuals, including U.S. civil rights activist Martin Luther King.
How police deter dissent: Government critics decry intimidation The
Ottawa Citizen Tue 21 Aug 2001 News A1 / Front News David Pugliese and
It usually begins with a public comment criticizing government policy
or the posting of a notice calling for a demonstration against a
Then comes the phone call or knock on the door by RCMP officers or
Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents. The appearance and tone
of the callers are professional. But their questions, directed at people
involved in organizing legitimate, peaceful protests, are seen as
anything but benign. Those who have endured the process view such
incidents as blatant attempts to quash free speech.
The tactic of police or spies arriving unannounced on the doorsteps of
demonstration organizers or people just contemplating a public rally
represents a hardening of the security establishment's dealings with
those who openly voice their opinions.
The people receiving the CSIS and RCMP phone calls or visits are not
extremists. They're ordinary Canadians -- union members, students,
professors and social activists -- who disagree with government policy
and want to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.
"The whole thing is so insulting and to a certain degree very
intimidating," says Allison North, a Newfoundland student organizer
interviewed by police after she criticized Prime Minister Jean
Chretien's record on education.
Ms. North had told a newspaper last May that Mr. Chretien didn't deserve
an honorary degree from Memorial University because of his government's
cuts to education funding. Shortly after, an RCMP officer questioned her
on whether she planned to do anything to threaten Mr. Chretien or
embarrass him when he picked up his degree.
At that point, according to Ms. North, her organization, the Canadian
Federation of Students, didn't even have plans to hold a demonstration.
"To get a phone call suggesting I am a threat to the prime minister is
absurd," says Ms. North, who has no criminal record.
When Mr. Chretien arrived to receive his degree, Ms. North and 19 other
students demonstrated peacefully in the rain outside the convocation
hall. As he appeared, they turned their backs on him in mute protest.
The students were heavily outnumbered by police and security forces.
The RCMP sees nothing wrong with contacting potential demonstrators in
advance and letting them know the force is aware of their intentions.
Const. Guy Amyot, an RCMP spokesman, says it is standard policy to visit
organizers of protests that may become violent or might give police some
cause for concern. "We're meeting people who intend to demonstrate just
to make sure it's done legally," he explained. "That's all."
Such meetings are voluntary, Const. Amyot said, and protest organizers
can refuse to talk to officers if they want. "If they feel
they just have to tell us they don't want to meet us," he said. "They
are not forced to do so."
He acknowledged most of the visits or phone calls have been associated
with politically-oriented demonstrations, but added the RCMP respect the
right of Canadians to hold legal protests.
Such assurances don't ease the minds of those who have been questioned.
It was a rally to protest government inaction on pay equity that
prompted a call to a federal union from Canada's spy agency in October
When the Public Service Alliance of Canada planned a demonstration in
Winnipeg outside a conference centre where Mr. Chretien was scheduled to
speak, a Canadian Security Intelligence Service officer phoned union
official Bert Beal to question him about the gathering. CSIS wanted to
know whether the rally was going to be violent, as well as the number of
"We're employees of the government legitimately protesting against
government decisions that affect our members," says Mr. Beal.
"That is our legal right." PSAC held a peaceful rally, attended
about 150 people and closely monitored by police. Mr. Beal, involved in
the labour movement for 30 years, says this was the first time a rally
with which he had been involved elicited a call from the national spy
CSIS spokeswoman Chantal Lapalme declined to discuss specific instances
when the agency has approached people. But she said CSIS does not
investigate lawful advocacy or dissent.
"If we have information that there will be politically motivated,
serious violence we might investigate and then we'd report the
information we obtained to government and law enforcement."
The period leading up to April's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City
saw a flurry of such visits. CSIS officials questioned young people in
Montreal and Quebec City who had taken part in an October demonstration.
The agents wanted to know about the chance of violence at the April
gathering. Around the same time the RCMP in Quebec visited Development
and Peace, a social advocacy organization linked to the Catholic Church,
and other anti-poverty groups to question people about their summit
Also targeted before the Quebec City meeting was University of
Lethbridge professor Tony Hall, an expert in aboriginal affairs and a
vocal critic of the Mounties.
An officer with the RCMP's National Security Investigations Section
questioned Mr. Hall about his writings critical of free trade agreements
and their effects on indigenous peoples.
The officer also wanted details of Mr. Hall's involvement in an
alternative summit being organized for aboriginal peoples in Quebec
City, as well as names of others involved.
Mr. Hall's case was raised in the Commons by NDP leader Alexa McDonough,
who accused the federal government of trampling on the democratic rights
Mr. Chretien responded that police were just doing their job -- an
explanation that failed to satisfy the Canadian Association of
David Robinson, the group's associate executive director, is worried
such police tactics threaten academic freedom and open debate on
Association officials are planning to meet RCMP leaders over what the
university group views as a clear violation of the professor's civil
Final Photo: The Telegram / The RCMP visited student organizer Allison
North after she criticized Prime Minister Jean Chretien's record on
education funding before he was accepted a honorary degree from Memorial
University. The Ottawa Citizen Mounties in masks: A spy story:
Undercover tactics go too far, critics say The Ottawa Citizen Wed 22 Aug
2001 News A1 / Front Crime; Series; Special Report Jim Bronskill and
The happy-go-lucky band of protesters wore masks and colourful costumes
as they paraded about the University of British Columbia campus on a
memorable autumn night in 1997.
After all, it was Halloween. And dressing up lent a festive air to the
anti-APEC march just weeks before leaders of Asia-Pacific countries
would assemble on the university campus.
But one member of the group had another reason to wear a disguise: he
was an RCMP officer. Const. Mitch Rasche, his face hidden by a Star Trek
alien mask, accompanied about 30 protesters as they toured the grounds,
stopping to place hexes on corporate-sponsored summit sites and even
casting a spell on a Coca-Cola machine.
Such spy tactics worry demonstrators and experts on the RCMP, who argue
civil rights are being trampled when Canada's national police use
undercover techniques to compile information on the anti-globalization
The roving clutch of Halloween demonstrators included several members of
APEC Alert, a group concerned about the effects of the Asia-Pacific
alliance's policies on human rights and the environment.
APEC Alert embraced non-violent protest but sometimes advocated civil
disobedience. At the new campus atrium, where world leaders would soon
gather, the marchers used washable markers to write "Boo to APEC" and
"APEC is scary" on the windows.
Standing six-foot-four and weighing a hefty 240 pounds, Const. Rasche, a
17-year RCMP veteran, had trouble blending into the crowd of mostly
young, underfed students.
"That's what made him stick out," recalls Jonathan Oppenheim, a
student who took part in the march. "He was just kind of standing there
slightly off to the side, and not really talking to anyone."
Suspicions were further aroused when Const. Rasche's cellphone rang. "I
think we have a spy amongst us," said one of the protesters.
Months later, as an inquiry into RCMP actions at the APEC meetings
unfolded, the amazed activists would read Const. Rasche's police report
on the march and hear his testimony about the escapade, confirming their
Indeed, the Halloween episode was part of a much broader surveillance
effort. Police documents and inquiry hearings would reveal the RCMP
infiltrated anti-APEC groups to gather intelligence about the November
1997 summit, and planned to arrest and charge high-profile members of
APEC Alert to remove them before the international event.
The trick-or-treat surveillance of APEC Alert was one of the more
striking -- albeit comical -- intelligence-gathering tactics employed by
the Mounties in connection with the summit. The RCMP, sometimes in
conjunction with Vancouver police, also sat in on protest meetings,
interviewed activists about their intentions, photographed participants
at events and assigned undercover officers to blend in with protesters,
learn their plans and report the findings to central command posts.
Many Canadians are under the mistaken impression the Mounties hung up
their spy gear in 1984 when the Canadian Security Intelligence Service
assumed most of the duties of the RCMP Security Service, disbanded in
the wake of widespread criticism for infringing on civil liberties.
However, the RCMP's National Security Investigations Section (NSIS)
probes ideologically motivated criminal activity related to national
security such as white supremacy, aboriginal militancy and animal rights
NSIS, which conducts investigations under the Security Offences Act, is
intended to complement CSIS, whose agents also examine and assess
security threats, but have no authority to conduct criminal probes or
make arrests. NSIS also carries out threat assessments -- analyses of
the potential for violence at public events -- in support of the force's
protective policing program.
But during the APEC summit, it appears NSIS strayed beyond the confines
of preserving national security. An operational plan tabled at the APEC
inquiry says the duties of NSIS's B.C. branch included conducting
follow-up investigations on information that indicated a potential
threat of not just harm, but "embarrassment" to visiting leaders.
Other documents filed with the inquiry show police closely monitored the
plans, meetings and events of protesters in the weeks leading up to the
One typical entry noted a rally to be held in Vancouver the evening of
Nov. 4, 1997. "NSIS members plan to provide surveillance coverage at
this event to gauge the level of support for the anti-APEC cause at this
late stage, and to identify some of the key people attending," wrote an
NSIS constable. "Attempts will be made to photograph participants."
The RCMP has adopted the dubious tactic of gathering intelligence on
non-violent public interest groups that have nothing to hide, says
Wesley Pue, a UBC law professor and editor of the book, Pepper in Our
Eyes: The APEC Affair.
"It seems to me the police are routinely crossing the line and
forgetting the distinction between legitimate democratic dissent and
Police surveillance of individuals in an academic milieu is particularly
troubling because campuses are intended to be places where unpopular
ideas are debated, says historian Steve Hewitt, author of the
forthcoming book, Spying 101: The Mounties' Secret Activities at
Canadian Universities, 1917-1997.
The involvement of NSIS in such activities raises special concerns in
that the RCMP spies are subject to less oversight and scrutiny than CSIS
agents, he adds.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reports to Parliament,
examines CSIS operations to determine whether the spy service has
adhered to the law. CSIS also submits a detailed annual report to the
solicitor general, and prepares a public version for presentation in
There are no such checks on the NSIS. A classified police report tabled
at the APEC inquiry describes the behind-the-scenes tactics police
employed during the summit and provides a rare look at the inner
workings of a Canadian intelligence operation.
"State-of-the art covert/overt intelligence gathering methods were used
which provide very accurate intel on anti-APEC gatherings, protesters
both pre and during APEC," says the debriefing report.
Police, with help from CSIS, compiled a computerized database on
hundreds of people and groups. Officials worked around the clock to
produce threat assessments and each morning a secret bulletin was
distributed by hand to co-ordinators, site commanders and a special team
assigned to infiltrate crowds.
The infiltration team was designed as "an intelligence gathering unit
and as such provided timely, accurate and pertinent information about
the crowds protesting various aspects of APEC," the report reveals.
"Members were able to assess the crowds, identify the ring leaders and
determine the goals of the crowd." On one occasion, unit members
on intelligence about the intentions of 75 demonstrators who blocked the
road leading out of the UBC campus.
The crowd infiltration team was sufficiently large that members could be
rotated from one area of the campus to another, "in an effort to avoid
familiarity" and reduce the chance of their cover being blown.
Scrutiny of the anti-globalization movement by the intelligence
community has almost certainly intensified following violent acts,
committed by a relatively small number of protesters, at international
meetings during the last four years.
However, Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto history professor,
suspects Canada's intelligence agencies are placing too much emphasis on
broad-brush investigation of the movement and not enough on determining
which groups and individuals pose actual threats.
Unless the balance shifts, adds Mr. Wark, security services are never
"going to have the capacity to distinguish genuine threats from peaceful
This is the fifth and final instalment in the Citizen series on "the
criminalization of dissent."
Final Criminalization of Dissent Special Report: Criminalization of
Dissent Photo: Protester Jonathan Oppenheim, a physics student, said
massive RCMP Constable Mitch Rasche stood out in the crowd of anti-APEC
marchers, even under a Star Trek mask. The Ottawa Citizen That's all,
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