Conservative party leadership contender Kellie Leitch wants to crack down on and surveil those who interfere with natural resource development projects in Canada.
“There is a place for legitimate protest, but we will lock up the agitators and activists who resort to vandalism and violence when they do not get their way,” Leitch wrote Tuesday morning on Facebook, the medium she uses for most of her campaign communications.
In that post, she pledged her support for the Energy East pipeline — which would carry more than one million barrels of crude per day from Alberta to New Brunswick — and insists that she’ll use Canada’s national policing and spying agencies to make sure it goes off without a hitch.
“We will build this pipeline and we will build Canada,” she wrote.
Leitch outlined a five-point plan to quash “violence and/or vandalism” against Energy East and other natural resource projects.
Perhaps most striking is her plan to create a “new task force” made up of “specialized components” of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s main spy agency, the Canadian Revenue Agency, and Global Affairs Canada.
Government surveillance of Indigenous and environmentalist protesters is not new, but is always controversial. CSIS and the RCMP have been chastised for infiltrating, tracking, and surveilling peaceful activists. The spy agency came under fire for preparing national security plans in case peaceful Indigenous protests “escalated.” And last month it was revealed that the RCMP was conducting surveillance on 89 Indigenous activists for their involvement in environmental efforts. Leitch’s proposals would clearly turn up the dial on that sort of surveillance.
Leitch’s plan also includes “increasing penalties for those engaging in acts of violence and/or vandalism” designed to disrupt construction, and ensuring those who provide support for those actions are charged. Although she doesn’t specify what those increased penalties would be.
Stiffening penalties for protesters blocking energy infrastructure, like pipelines, appeared to be the intention of legislation introduced when Leitch’s party was in government, which would have added new criminal prohibitions for anyone who “interferes” with a critical infrastructure projects. Leitch’s post also specifically mentions “criminal interference.” The government ultimately chose not to push that bill, and it never became law.
Damaging energy projects is already punishable under Canadian law, but prosecutors rarely get convictions and the punishment is usually a fine.
Leitch’s release also promises to classify “environmental lobbying as a political activity,” seemingly for the purposes of pulling tax exempt status for charitable foundations like the Sierra Club and to “get international money out of the process.”
Leitch’s proposal comes on the heels of the Liberal government’s approval of two major pipeline projects: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.
They also follow comments from Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, who vowed to use “defence forces” to crack down on anti-pipeline protests that are not “peaceful.” He later told CBC that he didn’t intend those comments as a warning.
A number of environmental and First Nations groups have already protested the new pipeline approvals and have vowed to fight further construction citing concerns over climate change and disruption to their lands.
All 14 Conservative leadership candidates are set to debate tonight in Moncton, New Brunswick. The province’s premier called on Tuesday for the approval of the Energy East pipeline, saying it would “get our resources to market.”
Over the last week, Leitch has made a number of headline-grabbing posts, including a fundraising campaign appealing to online trolls for donations, as well as a plan to make it legal for Canadians to possess pepper spray and mace for “self-defence.”