Secret Spy Hearings

In 2014 the BCCLA fought back against illegal spying by filing complaints against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Those complaints alleged that the Canadian government’s security agencies had been illegally spying on Indigenous and community groups opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the body responsible for CSIS oversight, held secret hearings to find out what really happened. SIRC ordered the witnesses involved in the complaint to keep silent about what happened in the proceedings.

This gag order prevented us from revealing what was exposed during the hearing. This is largely unprecedented and is contrary to the principles of accountability and transparency that oversight bodies are meant to serve.

We fought that sealing order, and now we can finally reveal the Protest Papers – the staggering amount of CSIS records that show why we maintain that CSIS was illegally spying on activists and environmentalists.

While SIRC ruled that there was no wrongdoing on CSIS’ part, we believe that the report itself strongly suggests that illegal spying and information has taken place.

As the heavily redacted documents show, SIRC found that CSIS was investigating specific targets who were opposed to pipelines, including those named in our complaint, but information on other people may have also been collected “incidentally” and for “domain awareness.” Along with the sheer size of the documents, this suggests that Canada’s spy agencies view environmental movements as an inherent threat that should be monitored.

In addition, the report stated that CSIS had shared information related to the activities of groups concerned about the Northern Gateway Project with the National Energy Board (NEB) and petroleum companies.

These findings show that the issue at hand is bigger than this one case. This is about government accountability, and about our right to question those in power.

Spying on people who are exercising their right to protest is an attack on freedom of expression. It creates a climate of fear that chills expression and stifles public participation.

Although we’ve already gained incredible insights, we know there’s a lot more the government is hiding. Not only are the documents we’ve received so far heavily redacted, but there are also thousands of relevant documents we haven’t seen at all. The BCCLA is back in court to get access to all of this information.

At the same, time the Attorney General of Canada is trying to convince the Federal Court that our case should be heard in secret, and at least partly without us even being present. We’re also fighting back against this unacceptable attack on the open court principle.

Together with the organizations involved in the complaint, the Sierra Club of BC, the Dogwood Initiative,, and STAND (formerly ForestEthics Advocacy), we are seeking accountability and an end to unconstitutional spying on Canadians.

Once the Court decides on the appropriate process, we are going to continue to challenge the SIRC ruling that there was no wrongdoing on the part of Canada’s spy agencies.


Stand with us. Donate now to protect our fundamental right to protest and stop illegal spying.