Following news that the RCMP considers anti-oil-industry activists a national security threat, we spoke to some of the activists who have been on the front lines of the fight to salvage Canada's environment.
As the Harper government's Bill C-51 moves to extend anti-terrorism legislation to include anyone who interferes with the "critical infrastructure," "territorial integrity," or "economic and financial stability of Canada," a leaked report from the RCMP's Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team demonstrates how aboriginals and environmentalists are already being targeted by law enforcement for these reasons.
The leaked intelligence report from early 2014 observes a "growing international opposition" to Canada's tar sands and focuses on "violent aboriginal extremists," anti-fracking, and anti-pipeline activists, identifying them as threats to national security. In particular, the report is concerned with aboriginal struggles against unwanted fossil fuel developments on lands that were never ceded to the Crown.
"There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed, anti-Canadian petroleum movement, that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists, who are opposed to society's reliance of fossil fuels," the report says. "Governments and petroleum companies are being encouraged, and increasingly threatened, by violent extremists to cease all actions which the extremists believe, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions."
As the RCMP's report presents "violent aboriginal extremists" with "anti-petroleum ideology" as key national enemies, the government is forcing oil and gas projects onto diverse aboriginal nations that have never surrendered their lands to the Canadian state in any meaningful way.
This article features the voices of activists named or alluded to in the RCMP's leaked report, offering their perspectives on the intelligence report. The language of C-51 is broad enough that it could ostensibly lump communities taking direct action against petroleum projects into the same category as terrorists. Publication of some of these ideas may soon be a crime in and of itself.
As examples of "criminal extremism," the report provides the anti-fracking protests in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, the Swamp Line 9 pump-station occupation in Hamilton, Ontario, and resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia. The RCMP also raise concerns about the earliest attempts to organize opposition to TransCanada's Energy East.
In each case, these movements have sought to protect water sources from contamination by way of hydraulic fracturing or diluted bitumen pipeline spills. The report downplays the environmental risks associated with fracking and oil sands expansion, denying, for example, that pollution from the tar sands is contributing to cancers in the community of Fort Chipewyan.
The report's primary sources are petroleum lobbyists, government studies, and polls that argue that the majority of Canadians support oil sands development and pipelines. Any mention that burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change is clarified with statements like "extremists believe," "in their literature," and "environmental groups say."
Bill C-51 gives law enforcement new powers to detain suspects who they think "may" rather than "will" commit a violent crime, and to "preventatively" detain suspects for up to seven days without charges. Canada's spy agency, CSIS, will be able to interfere with the travel and finances of suspects, while courts will be able to incarcerate those who promote terroristic action "in general" and to remove what the government deems terrorist propaganda from the internet.
The bill notes that it is not intended to criminalize "lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression." It does, however, make "interference with critical infrastructure" illegal. While "critical infrastructure" isn't defined under the Criminal Code, a private member's bill introduced in December would add that definition. As Justice Minister Peter MacKay told VICE, under that bill, interfering with critical infrastructure could be as simple as setting up an anti-pipeline protest.
The bill will give CSIS agents extraordinary new powers, well beyond their current mandate, which limits them to simply investigating. Once C-51 becomes law, the agents will be permitted to ignore the law while executing a disruption warrant. The bill could possibly open a backdoor for illegally-obtained evidence to be used in court.
Marginal safeguards have been placed on the conduct of government spies; they are not allowed to kill, physically harm, or "violate the sexual integrity" of an individual.
"Any time the government feels like they're losing a battle for them to line their own pockets, they're going to create new legislation in their favour to make us look like bad guys," said Freda Huson, spokesperson of the Unist'ot'en clan. Her home was built in the path of multiple proposed fracking and tar sands pipelines at the Unist'ot'en Camp blockade on unceded indigenous land.
Unist'ot'en Camp and Freda Huson are mentioned in a Georgia Straight article on pipeline resistance in BC, which is included in the RCMP report's appendix as evidence of regional extremism. The intelligence report argues that the second "most urgent anti-petroleum threat of violent criminal activity is in Northern British Columbia where there is a coalition of like-minded violent extremists who are planning criminal actions to prevent the construction of the pipelines."
This phrase, I believe from experience reporting on the Unist'ot'en Camp, is a mischaracterization of their movement that alludes to their location. Other RCMP intelligence documents obtained by VICE name the Unist'ot'en Camp explicitly, while their annual direct action workshops are a documented target of RCMP surveillance.
"Even though we're being peaceful, they're trying to call us extremists," said Freda. "It's probably their way to try and legitimize forcibly removing us from our home."
"We have a home on our territory. We live there. We trap, we hunt, we fish, and we're basically just reoccupying and living our life out there and educating people about the environment, the impacts, and educating people to decolonize," said Freda. "There's nothing criminal about that."
"We're people who want to build a healing lodge on our land so we can bring our youth and their families out onto the territory to begin decolonizing our people—to begin healing our people. A healing lodge is not an act of violent extremism," said Toghestiy, Freda's partner, a hereditary chief of the Likhts'amisyu clan. "A healing lodge is an opportunity for our people as well as people who are supporters to come out and understand this new model of living that doesn't take into account state control."
The camp is the continent's longest standing pipeline blockade, established on territory that was never surrendered, sold, or lost in war to Canada. Under international and Canadian law, including the Supreme Court of Canada's Delgamuukw ruling, this unceded status and the authority of hereditary chiefs has been recognized.
Canada and BC are ignoring this legal framework and consulting with band council governments that lack jurisdiction beyond the boundaries of small reservations instead of hereditary chiefs. Government strategy appears to be to collect irrelevant aboriginal names on pipeline agreements as proof that communities "consent" to pipeline construction.
"It's unceded land. It's not Canada, it's not British Columbia. It's Unist'ot'en territory," said Huson. "They're not coming in. I don't care what kind of bill they pass."
C-51 has been the subject of petitions, widespread criticism in the mainstream media and condemnation by lawyers and civil rights advocates. Green Party leader Elizabeth May used the floor of Parliament to ask if the bill "will apply to non-violent civil disobedience, such as that against pipelines?"
The answer, though, was an Orwellian non-answer: "Terrorism, Mr. Speaker, is a criminal act and those who go against the criminal code will meet the full force of the law," said Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.
"I'm not impressed by bullshit legislation that has not been tested in court and that clearly violates the constitution," said Zoe Blunt, an environmental activist named in the Georgia Straight article.
"I'm willing to be a test case—I'll fight these guys in court," Blunt said. "This is why we have a legal trust—we have a legal defence fund. And we will defend anyone who is accused of taking action to stop pipelines."
"We are doing this thing yet again where we react against things long after the groundwork has been laid," said Alex Hundert, a teacher in Grassy Narrows, environmental activist, and a G20 conspirator who was sentenced to 13.5 months in jail. He is also known for being slapped with an unprecedented media gag order.
"All of these new powers already exist within policing agencies—the pre-emptive disruption tactics are already happening, the definition of entire communities or social movements as pseudo-terrorist or terrorist is already happening," he said.
"We already live in the world that people are afraid C-51 is going to create."
Hundert was the first person arrested at a nonviolent pump station occupation along Enbridge's Line 9 in Hamilton in 2013, which is mentioned repeatedly in the RCMP report. He noted that at the occupation, in addition to trespassing, "the only people who received criminal charges were the ones who locked down to things, which is as classic a definition of doing things non-violently as I can imagine."
Repeatedly throughout the report, peaceful activists and "violent extremists" are grouped together in blanket statements. In one instance, the report notes a criminal investigation was conducted with regards to a peaceful action that I reported on firsthand—the disruption of the National Energy Board hearings on Line 9 in Toronto by members of the public.
One phrase recognizably identifies nonviolent forms of protest like civil disobedience as necessarily violent. "Those within the movement who are willing to go beyond peaceful actions primarily employ direct action tactics, such as civil disobedience, unlawful protests, break and entry, vandalism and sabotage," the report says (emphasis added).
"I think there's a fundamental and language-based failure here to try and create a hard dichotomy between violent and nonviolent and peaceful and non-peaceful, and I just don't think the world works that way. There are plenty of armed things in the world that we call peacemaking, and under these definitions there are plenty of obviously peaceful, non-violent things that fit [the RCMP's] working definition of violence," Hundert said.
"The real questions are about 'is violence multidirectional' and 'what role does power have in deciding what kind of violence is OK?'"
The RCMP intelligence report, initially leaked to Greenpeace, arrives in a moment of heightened opposition to proposed government policy, and paints the anti-petroleum activists that this policy transparently targets as "violent," "dangerous," and most importantly, "aboriginal."
"These kind of reports, they are propaganda in and of themselves," argued Gord Hill, a Kwakwaka'wakw organizer, anti-colonial comic book artist, and the editor of the blog Warrior Publications. Hill is quoted in the Georgia Straight article as well.
"A couple times a year at least there's a CSIS report or an RCMP report on national security, and they certainly have political purposes," Hill said.
"They're facing significant resistance, especially here in BC. I mean, nobody wants the Enbridge pipeline except Enbridge and the government. They're facing a huge obstacle in terms of getting the population on board with these pipelines, so by smearing the movement they're hoping to change that."
Ambrose Williams, a soft-spoken Gitxsan man with an emphatic stick-and-poke "NO PIPELINES" tattoo, was surprised to learn his interview with the Georgia Straight on Northern Gateway was included in the RCMP document as evidence of violent extremism. Williams has been a public supporter of both the Unist'ot'en Camp and the community of Elsipogtog and identifies as "militantly pacifist."
"I find it really funny, to go from being a recognized community leader to the country's aboriginal eco-terrorist—it's a far jump. Most of my life has been working in the community and trying to build the community up in some capacity. To say I'm trying to tear it all down is kind of crazy," he said.
"I've worked in community centres here in Vancouver for most of my life and I've developed aboriginal youth programming in this city—I've brought funding dollars to neighbourhoods that normally wouldn't see this. It's totally off centre of what I'm about."
The main instance of "violent aboriginal extremism" that the report points to is the six police cruisers that were set ablaze when police clashed with protesters in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, during a raid on a peaceful roadblock maintained to prevent fracking exploration.
The roadblock was held by a coalition of Elsipogtog community members, Mi'kmaq Warriors, and Acadian settlers.
Like Unist'ot'en to the west, Mi'kma'ki land is unceded. Development in Elsipogtog was being pushed forward without consent from the affected community or any sort of meaningful social license.
On October 17th, the RCMP conducted a violent pre-dawn raid on the Mi'kmaq Warrior Society's camp. Molotov cocktails were ineffectually thrown at law enforcement officials, while guns and crude explosives made from fireworks were eventually seized. By the end of the day, forty protesters including elected officials of the Elsipogtog band council had been placed under the arrest.
Miles Howe, a Mediacoop reporter who was arrested in the raid, offered this summary: "... the RCMP appeared intent on provoking a violent climax on the near three-week blockade. I say in no uncertain terms that it is miraculous that no one was seriously injured yesterday, indeed killed. The RCMP arrived with pistols drawn, dogs snapping, assault rifles trained on various targets, and busloads of RCMP waiting from across the province and beyond."
"No live round was ever fired by the Warrior side," Howe reported.
The night before the raid, RCMP negotiators gave the Warrior encampment a gift of tobacco wrapped in red cloth as a gesture of peace.
"It was a peaceful protest camp at Elsipogtog, and they came in with riot cops and paramilitary force and they were pepper-spraying Elders and children," said Williams. Protesters were fired upon with "less lethal" ammunition from RCMP shotguns at close range.
"This isn't very unlike a lot of instances in history where this has occurred, just in terms of the brute force and the displacement of aboriginal peoples in Canada," Williams said.
"Violence is happening to us on a regular basis," Molly Wickham, another indigenous land defender in Wet'suwet'en territory, told me. "Whether it's through the destruction of our homelands, the destruction of our culture, the violence against our women, the violence against our children, violence is happening to us at the hands of the colonial state on a regular basis."
"We are characterized as violent people if we defend ourselves because violence is very privileged," she said.
"You're not going to see a whole lot of RCMP sitting in jail for what they're doing," Toghestiy said, referencing a recent report that collected allegations of RCMP officers raping, threatening, and beating aboriginal women along northern B.C's Highway 16.
"White supremacy runs rampant all across Turtle Island," Toghestiy said. "Our people are aware of that... This is the system that we're up against, and we're not backing down."
Other than to refer to Elsipogtog, the phrase "violent aboriginal extremists" is deployed liberally and non-specifically throughout the report.
The report identifies indigenous "site blockades" as a nonviolent form of action, despite focusing heavily on violence in Elsipogtog and alluding to Unist'ot'en Camp as a violent hotspot.
"In the absence of being able to point to specific people using particular rhetoric or organizing particular kinds of actions or particular kinds of structures, the offhand reference [to 'violent aboriginal extremists'] is just absurd," said Alex Hundert.
"It's about making any time you see an indigenous person speaking out on any issue trigger fear in non-indigenous people in order to create bias," he said.
"I don't believe for a second that [law enforcement believes]: 'This specific group of aboriginal people are very likely to commit this set of violent actions,'" Hundert said.
The RCMP report warns that "as the petroleum industry expands its operations across Canada, criminal activity associated to the anti-petroleum movement will increase nationally," perhaps contradicting its own claims that the petroleum industry enjoys a broad social license.
Whereas the Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team's 2011 report looks to decades-old examples of environmentally motivated sabotage, the 2014 report has numerous examples of recent incidents, including: "the bombing of the vehicle belonging to a vice president of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute in Quebec; the series of gas pipeline bombings in Northern B.C.; the firebombing of the Edmonton residence of the retired Syncrude president and chief operating officer... and the destruction of petroleum equipment and threats to petroleum personnel in New Brunswick."
"People have always used whatever methods they can to defend their land, to defend their lives, to defend the earth and the water that sustains us," said Zoe Blunt, who is writing a book on the history of eco-sabotage in BC.
As an unchecked majority power, the Harper government has fundamentally, and likely permanently, transformed dozens of Canadian laws to suit the myriad needs of a repressive petro-state.
Controversies have surrounded the intermingling of law enforcement, politicians, and oil sector officials. Bill C-10 introduced mandatory minimum prison sentences for minor crimes, while the government awarded the first mega-prison construction contract valued at $38.5 million to a company owned by Enbridge executive J. Richard Bird. Chuck Strahl, a Northern Gateway lobbyist, was briefly appointed the watchdog of CSIS. BC's Premier Christy Clark populated her government with former Enbridge lobbyists, and so on and so forth.
In response to direct requests from oil lobbyists, bills C-38 and C-45 gutted existing environmental regulations, removing protections for millions of waterways. Further legislation saw loosened protections around key species placed at risk by pipeline projects. A "streamlined" regulatory regime has removed obligatory environmental assessments while barring hundreds of citizens from participating in "public" hearings on pipelines. What is left is a toothless regulatory regime that has been called "a fraudulent process" of "public deception" by a former oil sector executive, which ultimately can be overruled if the government wants an unsafe project to go ahead. All this, in addition to muzzled scientists, shuttered research centres, and the burning of books full of irreplaceable environmental data.
"We've seen that the government has no respect for law and that the NEB has no respect for municipal bylaws, for local governments, for referendums. They have no respect for legal actions. This government just comes in and overrules all the legitimate ways of protest," said Zoe Blunt.
"I think they should be concerned. They've taken this land, but how can they hold it? How can you guard a 900km long pipeline? How can you possibly guard an entire railroad system?" asked Blunt. "If your oil field investment is in a war zone it changes the bottom line.
"Nobody is going to profit and we're here to make sure of that," Blunt said. "I want to encourage the underground to be bolder and I want to scare the investors."
"Historically speaking peaceful blockades are a lot more effective than anonymous bombs," suggested Alex Hundert.
For the Unist'ot'en Camp's part, Freda spoke plainly: "We have done nothing of this sort. We don't condone it. We don't promote it. We have 200 people coming through our camp [each year] and all of them can vouch. That is not what we're about."
As for C-51, "yes, things are getting worse—but it's an inevitable culmination," said Alex Hundert. "The time to stop C-51 was when new Islamophobic discourses started gaining traction over a decade ago. The time to stop it was more than a decade ago when this conflation of environmental activism and terrorism began.
"This well financed and heavily organized movement that [the RCMP] talk about, most of the folks that are involved in that are still kind of convinced that shifting which party's in charge is going to make a big difference. That kind of non-systemic change thinking is what made this type of culmination inevitable," he said.
Under increased surveillance, Hundert argues, people will start "to organize with family and with neighbours and on scales that this type of repression can't stop."
"As someone who engages in this resistance, this is the type of repression that we expect from the state so it doesn't really change anything for me," Gord Hill said. "Resistance movements always have to have some kind of basic security to defend themselves against state repression."
"It's a lot of hype, it's a lot of rhetoric, it's a lot of barking from the government and the cops and CSIS and whatnot and it's all part of the propaganda against whatever movements they're targeting," Hill said. "I mean, it scares people and some people are intimidated by it. You can see on social media a lot of native people talking about Bill C-51 and they're thinking it's going to be this terrible, state repression coming down on them. But as someone who's experienced this type of stuff in the past, the effects are often minimal."
Each of those interviewed in this story believes they are under some form of government surveillance. Ambrose Williams says he has been followed by police cruisers and officers of the RCMP's Aboriginal Liaison department, while Gord Hill's home was raided at gunpoint over the alleged graffiti charges of a roommate. To date, Hill's digital devices, confiscated last June, remain in the hands of law enforcement.
"All of us have been followed for a long time, but that's not going to silence us," said Toghestiy. "We just kept talking. Everything that we've had to say since the beginning of our campaign has been based on the truth and it's really important that people understand that the more truth that we can share with individuals—truth about the environment, truth about the state, truth about colonialism, truth about racism, truth about the Conservative government and Harperism—the more truth that we continue to expose, the better off human society will be.
"This earth is in turmoil. The earth is in trouble. And if we don't start making changes in our lives today then we can just say goodbye to any idea of there being an unborn generation," he added.
"They talk about social media—that's how people are communicating a lot, that's how opinions are being formed, so they certainly want to target it," Hill said, when asked about C-51's internet censorship provisions. "But they have to be cautious as to how they do that, because clumsy acts of repression can lead to more radicalization of people—because it's more clear, it's more apparent, that this is how the state functions."
"The thing that Canada doesn't want to do is provoke or radicalize this kind of simmering indigenous movement. If they were to come out and try to apply the anti-terrorist legislation at this time, I think it would create a huge backlash and could lead to the radicalization of more native people."
"Now when push comes to shove we'll find out exactly how repressive and violent this government is," said Zoe Blunt. "They are the ones who are violent. They're the ones who are criminals. They're the ones willing to destroy ecosystems, habitats, watersheds. They're the ones who are willing to put our entire coastline at risk, and everything that depends on this landscape, everything that depends on these ecosystems is put at risk when they put these projects through.
"They're looking at civil war," she says. "If they want these pipelines they're going to get it over our dead bodies."
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