RCMP complaints commission initiates public interest investigation; complaint against CSIS referred to watchdog
VANCOUVER – Two complaints filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) are moving to the next level of investigation. The complaints, filed in February, allege that the RCMP and CSIS acted unconstitutionally in spying on and monitoring the peaceful and democratic activities of community groups and First Nations opposed to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
This month the RCMP Commission for Public Complaints has launched its own public interest investigation of the complaint against the police force, bypassing its usual practice of asking the RCMP itself to conduct an initial investigation of the complaint. The Commissioner has the power to skip the RCMP investigation and conduct its own investigation when he thinks it is “advisable in the public interest”.
“It’s clear that the RCMP complaints commission is taking this spying complaint very seriously, by investigating the complaint itself rather than leaving the job to the RCMP,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA. “Police spying on peaceful activists should not be tolerated in a democratic society. We hope that the commission will get to the bottom of this. Canadians must be free to express themselves without having to wonder if the person holding a protest sign next to them is a police informant.”
Last week, meanwhile, the BCCLA received CSIS’s response to its complaint against the spy agency. CSIS’s response did not address the specifics of the complaint, and stated that the agency conducts itself according to law. The BCCLA has responded by requesting that the Security Intelligence Review Committee, CSIS’s oversight body, investigate the complaint.
Paterson commented on CSIS’s response: “It’s not clear whether CSIS conducted any internal investigation at all into our allegations. They just dismiss our allegations and use the typical line that we are used to hearing from spy agencies that they always obey the law. We’ve learned to be skeptical about these blanket denials of unlawful conduct from spy agencies, and that’s why we have asked for a further investigation of our complaint by CSIS’s oversight agency. Our allegations didn’t come out of thin air – they were based on the federal government’s own documents, and we expect a full investigation and response.”
The BCCLA’s complaints allege that the CSIS and the RCMP illegally monitored and spied on the peaceful activities of individuals and groups including ForestEthics Advocacy, Dogwood Initiative, LeadNow.ca, and the Idle No More movement. Specifically, the complaints alleged that the agencies interfered with the freedoms of expression, assembly and association protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by gathering intelligence about citizens opposed to the Enbridge project through a range of sources. The complaints also claim that the spying activities potentially included illegal searches of private information. The complaint against CSIS further alleges that the spy agency broke the law by gathering information on the peaceful and democratic activities of Canadians, which it is banned by law from doing.