Secret hearing begins into alleged illegal spying on Canadian citizens

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Vancouver (Coast Salish Territories) – A secret hearing today in Vancouver will look into allegations that Canadian spies illegally gathered information about the activities of citizens and community groups concerned about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. The secret hearing is being conducted by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which functions like a court. The media and the public are barred from attending the hearings.

SIRC is hearing allegations filed in February 2014 by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) that that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) unlawfully spied on members and volunteers of the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics Advocacy,, Sierra Club BC, and participants in the #IdleNoMore movement.

“We’ve filed this complaint because Canadians should be able to participate in a democracy without being spied on,” said Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the BCCLA, ”Bill C-51 has given spies far more power, including the ability to violate the constitution. We need to put a stop to abuses by our national security agencies, not give them more power to violate people’s rights.”

One incident recorded in the intelligence-gathering, revealed in government documents released under the Access to Information Act, was a January 2013 Kelowna, B.C. volunteer meeting co-hosted by the advocacy organization Dogwood Initiative, a community action group based in Victoria, and

Céline Trojand, Director of Organizing at the Dogwood Initiative, was at that meeting and is a witness at the hearing today. She said, “I do this work because I love my country and I want to make our democracy even stronger. That’s why it’s so discouraging to think that spies have gathered information on my meetings with friends and volunteers. For all we know these violations are still happening.”

Award-winning children’s author Caitlyn Vernon, who is testifying on Thursday, participated in many citizen meetings in her role as Campaign Director of Sierra Club BC. She said, “This is an attack on democracy and on the rights of all Canadians. As citizens we should be encouraged to get involved in issues that affect our communities. Instead, we are spied on by our own government. That’s not supposed to happen in Canada.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, attended one of the meetings that was spied upon and was instrumental in organizing a peaceful public rally against Enbridge in June 2014 that showed up in CSIS information gathering. The Grand Chief said, “We are firmly committed to fight back against the climate of fear and intimidation that’s created when the government spies on our communities. All over BC and Canada we hear reports of the government spying on First Nations people, who are exercising their rights and speaking out about the future of their communities. We will not be intimidated.  We will not be silenced. The illegal spying must stop.”

The complaint against CSIS alleges that the spy agency 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, and people involved in #IdleNoMore, through a range of sources. The complaint 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 complaint also sets out that CSIS and other agencies shared information on monitoring community groups with oil and pipeline companies.

Jamie Biggar of, also a witness in the secret hearing, stated: “It’s a very sad state of affairs when government security agencies collect information about citizens groups and share that information with oil companies. Whose interests are police and spies protecting?”

Documents released to the Vancouver Observer in 2013 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.

The February 2014 complaint against CSIS available here.

The March 2015 new evidence submissions available here.