[The colonial suppression of indigenous peoples is at the foundation of settler-colonial states from Azania, Polynesia, Palestine, and on and on from South Asia to and through the Western Hemisphere. At the foundation, and continuing, without respite. Here, a report on the surveillance and efforts to suppress the risings anew of the First Nations in the land the settlers call Canada. — Frontlines ed.]
CSIS, Aboriginal Affairs kept close watch on First Nations protest movement
A federal department and the country’s spy agency closely monitored the activities of the aboriginal “Idle No More” movement in late 2012 and early 2013, with the intelligence agency claiming it was doing so not over fear of protests getting out of hand, but to protect the activists from potential violence by others.
A series of “weekly situational awareness reports” from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reveals a rigorous cataloguing of Idle No More’s activities.
Each report begins: “This is a weekly report that provides current information and the status of activities that threaten public safety in relation to issues affecting Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.”
The reports were produced between December 2012 and February 2013. They contain long lists of the dates and locations of planned Idle No More demonstrations.
Aboriginal Affairs spokesperson Gen Guibert said the information in the reports was culled from sources including media, social media, Aboriginal Affairs regional offices, and First Nations.
Guibert would not say for whom, precisely, the reports were meant or who read them, nor whether they went to the minister of aboriginal affairs or the minister of public safety. She said generally the reports were “shared with a variety of internal and external partners including other federal departments, provincial emergency measures organizations and the Assembly of First Nations.”
“The information we gather and share is to support a co-ordinated response to emergencies and other significant events in First Nations communities.”
She said Aboriginal Affairs staff did not send any staff to Idle No More protests, demonstrations or similar events.
Viewed together, the reports illustrate Idle No More’s rapid growth, as documented by Aboriginal Affairs.
Idle No More was in part an indigenous response to federal government policies and general discontent among the aboriginal population with Canada’s treatment of First Nations peoples. Its demonstrations have included marches, flash mobs, and road and railway blockades.
A report from Dec. 21, 2012 – a period when a Northern Ontario chief, Theresa Spence, was staging a prolonged liquids-only protest in Ottawa – stated that there had been “approximately 49″ Idle No More protests since Dec. 9.
By Feb. 15, 2013, there had been 439 protests.
Between Jan. 12 and 17 alone, the department documented 72 protests, along with their dates and locations.
In some reports, Aboriginal Affairs listed “Idle No More Protests-National” under the heading “To watch over the weekend” near the beginning of each report.
The reports frequently cited the media as a source of information, including updates on Spence’s ongoing “hunger” strike, which appeared under a “hot spot summary” section of the reports.
In addition to the reports of Aboriginal Affairs, Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre, which operates within CSIS, the Canadian spy agency, prepared a threat assessment on Idle No More in January.
The heavily censored document, released to Postmedia News in response to an access-to-information request, contained a section in which a white supremacy website, Stormfront, said Idle No More represented a declaration of war on white people. Stormfront’s forum section contained a call for citizens to respond violently, according to the assessment.
The report also said that a group called Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality was planning a bus trip to Ottawa on Feb. 11. Gary McHale, CANACE president, said the event was eventually cancelled.
McHale played an active role in opposing the aboriginal takeover of the Douglas Creek Estates housing development in Caledonia, in southwestern Ontario, from 2006 to 2011. He has been arrested several times.
On its website, ITAC says, as its name suggests, that it provides the federal government with threat assessments, which it describes as analyses “of the intent and capability of terrorists to carry out attacks.” It shares threat assessments with first responders, provincial authorities, and members of the private sector, among others.
CSIS spokesperson Tahera Mufti stressed in emails to Postmedia News that ITAC did not consider Idle No More to be a terrorist threat.
“ITAC does not report on peaceful protest and dissent,” Mufti said. “Its mention of Idle No More was based on potential threats to that movement and not that Idle No More represented a threat to Canadian safety and/or Canadian interests.”
But Jeffrey Monaghan, a Queen’s PhD candidate who studies surveillance of activist groups, speculated that Idle No More’s road and railway blockades might have attracted unwanted attention.
“Idle No More presented a very realistic potential for economic disruption, which definitely caught the radar,” Monaghan said.
A Feb. 15 Aboriginal Affairs report also said that Idle No More’s activities had been peaceful, but added that 132 protests had caused interruption to rail services, border crossings, and delays on roads and bridges. Other reports highlighted blockades in Ontario and Alberta, including a small group of people blocking the road between Attawapiskat and a nearby De Beers diamond mine.
Monaghan argued that ITAC was engaging in “mission creep” by reporting on the activities of an “above-ground, political movement” rather than monitoring groups that could be classified explicitly as terrorist organizations.
With ample budgets, agencies such as ITAC have also directed their scrutiny at Greenpeace and animal rights groups, Monaghan said.
Chantal Chagnon, an organizer with Idle No More in Calgary, was not surprised to hear that the group has been monitored by CSIS.
“Aboriginal people in general have been under CSIS alert since the 80s,” Chagnon said.
But Chagnon noted that her group has a strong relationship with Calgary’s police force, which, for instance, has helped slow down traffic for Idle No More’s marches.