OTTAWA – As Parliamentary hearings into the proposed anti-terror Bill C-51 draw to a close, the BC Civil Liberties Association has filed new allegations that CSIS unlawful spied on peaceful political activists with the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). Last week, heavily redacted documents disclosed to Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill under the Access to Information Act were the subject of media reports.
BCCLA has added these new documents to its complaint against CSIS for spying on activists, which was originally filed in 2014. The BCCLA alleges in a letter sent yesterday to SIRC that the documents “provide further evidence of CSIS’s ongoing involvement in gathering and sharing information and intelligence about protests concerning the petroleum industry, including the [Enbridge] Northern Gateway Project.” The BCCLA’s letter adds that “these records show that CSIS prepares reports and shares information regarding protest activities, even where it recognizes that such actions are lawful and therefore outside the Service’s statutory mandate under […] the CSIS Act.”
“The government says not to worry about Bill C-51 and spying on peaceful protesters – but CSIS’s own documents make clear that it’s already involved in gathering and sharing information on the activities of Indigenous and environmental activists,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “We say this will only get worse if Bill C-51 passes, dramatically increasing the powers of CSIS and instituting almost unlimited intelligence data collecting and sharing of activists’ activities.”
Paul Champ, an Ottawa lawyer acting for the BCCLA in the complaint, added: “CSIS’s intelligence gathering and sharing about peaceful political advocacy represents a real threat to Charter-protected democratic freedoms of every Canadian. It’s also against the law, and that’s why we’re asking for an investigation.”
The BCCLA’s February 2014 complaint against CSIS, which will be considered by SIRC in a hearing, was based on documents released in late 2013. The complaint alleges that CSIS 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 Northern Gateway project through a range of sources. The complaint also claims that the spying activities potentially included illegal searches of private information. The complaint further alleges that CSIS broke the law by gathering information on the peaceful and democratic activities of Canadians, which it is banned by law from doing. The documents released made clear that none of the groups under surveillance posed any threat to the National Energy Board hearings or public safety. BCCLA also filed a companion complaint against the RCMP.