Canadian spies welcomed energy industry info about alleged threats, documents show

Details of the CSIS practices are emerging in a case mounted by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

Canada’s spy service routinely welcomed reports from the energy industry about perceived threats, and kept such information in its files in case it might prove useful later, newly disclosed documents reveal.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is supposed to retain only information that is “strictly necessary” to do its job, and the spy agency is now facing questions about whether it collected and hung on to material about groups or people who posed no real threat.

Details of the CSIS practices are emerging in a case mounted by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association in the Federal Court of Canada.

In a February 2014 complaint to the CSIS watchdog, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the association alleged the spy service overstepped its legal authority by monitoring environmentalists opposed to Enbridge’s now-abandoned Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

It also accused CSIS of sharing information about the opponents with the National Energy Board and petroleum industry companies, effectively deterring people from voicing their opinions and associating with environmental groups.

The review committee dismissed the civil liberties association’s complaint in 2017, prompting the association to ask the Federal Court to revisit the outcome.

In the process, more than 8,000 pages of once-secret material — including heavily redacted transcripts of closed-door hearings — have become public, providing a glimpse into the review committee’s deliberations.

During one hearing, a CSIS official whose identity is confidential told the committee that information volunteered by energy companies was put in a spy service database.

“It is not actionable. It just sits there,” the CSIS official said. “But should something happen, should violence erupt, then we will go back to this and be able to see that we had the information … it is just information that was given to us, and we need to log it.

“Should something happen after and we hadn’t logged it, then we are at fault for not keeping the information.”

READ MORE: CSIS collected info on peaceful groups, but only in pursuit of threats: watchdog

The review committee heard from several witnesses and examined hundreds of documents in weighing the civil liberties association’s complaint.

The watchdog concluded CSIS collected some information about peaceful anti-petroleum groups, but only incidentally in the process of investigating legitimate threats to projects such as oil pipelines.

Advocacy and environmental groups Leadnow, the Dogwood Initiative and the Council of Canadians are mentioned in the thousands of pages of CSIS operational reports scrutinized by the review committee.

But the committee’s report said that CSIS’s activities did not stray into surveillance of organizations engaged in lawful advocacy, protest or dissent.

A CSIS witness testified the spy service “is not in the business of investigating environmentalists because they are advocating for an environmental cause, period.”

Still, the review committee urged CSIS to ensure it was keeping only “strictly necessary” information, as spelled out in the law governing the spy service.

The civil liberties association told the committee of a chilling effect for civil society groups from the spy service’s information-gathering as well as comments by then-natural resources minister Joe Oliver denouncing “environmental and other radical groups.”

One CSIS witness told the committee that Oliver’s statement did not flow from information provided by the spy agency. ”As a service, we never found out where he was coming from, where he got this information or who had briefed him,” the unnamed CSIS official said. “So we’re not sure where he got it. But it wasn’t from us.”

The review committee found CSIS did not share information about the environmental groups in question with the National Energy Board or the petroleum industry.

The association wants the Federal Court to take a second look, given that CSIS created more than 500 operational reports relevant to the committee’s inquiry.

“The main impression one draws from the (committee) report is ‘nothing to see here, look away,’ when in fact there is a lot to see here,” said Paul Champ, a lawyer for the association.

Dozens of censored CSIS records say the reporting was further to “the Service’s efforts in assessing the threat environment and the potential for threat-related violence stemming from (redacted) protests/demonstrations.”

Some of the documents reveal that CSIS itself is questioning whether it is going too far, noting that the spy service is ”pressing on the limitations of our mandate.”

The notion that information on some groups or individuals was gathered incidentally is “cold comfort to people whose names might end up in the databanks of Canada’s intelligence service simply because they expressed a political opinion on Facebook, signed a petition, or attended a protest,” Champ said.

One document refers to the Dogwood Initiative as a “non-profit, Canadian environmental organization that was established in 1999 ‘to help communities and First Nations gain more control of the land and resources around them so they can be managed in a way that does not rob future generations for short-term corporate gain.’”

The passages before and after the description are blacked out.

“This court case will take some time to play out,” Champ said. “Right now, we are focused on getting access to as much information as possible so we can properly make our main arguments about how these CSIS activities violate the law.”

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Maple Ridge dancer lands role in Bard on the Beach

William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well runs until August 11

PHOTOS: Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors goes to the circus

Bard on the Bandstand 2019 kicks off July 18

Family practice opens doors for youth wellness services during Foundry renovations

Youth Wellness Centre services being offered at Golden Ears Family Practice

PHOTOS: Bees and Blueberries Festival in Pitt Meadows

More fun on Sunday at free family event

Large police presence near Maple Ridge tent city

Reports of shot fired on Friday night, police find no evidence

VIDEO: Using scrap materials, man build workout equipment at B.C. tent city

Made of reused wood, ropes and metal, the machine could be Shane Knight’s ticket to competitions

Canadian officials flagged 900 food items from China with ‘problems’ over 2 years

The scrutiny of agricultural goods has been central to a diplomatic dispute between Canada and China

VIDEO: Elderly woman with severe dementia missing in Chilliwack

Woman now missing more than 24 hours and missing her daily medications

Gasoline companies to speak at public inquiry into B.C. pump prices

Premier John Horgan ordered the inquiry in May when prices at the pump reached $1.70 a litre

When the hospital becomes home: B.C. girl, 7, has spent a third of her life in pediatric unit

Mother grateful for the care her daughter received at VGH Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

B.C. woman jailed for child pornography after sharing photos of grandchildren online

Grandma sentenced to 14 months behind bars for concerning and explicit online chats with stranger

Loved ones of Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh mourn after terrorist attack

She moved back to Somalia last year in an effort to tell positive stories of her home country

Marathon votes, high stress work is going to kill someone, say some MPs

Some resort to wearing diapers to help get them through all-night votes

Concerns mount over ‘criminalization’ of detained migrants in Canada

The agency decided all officers working in these centres must be outfitted in protective and defensive equipment

Most Read