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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Commercial fishing concerns over marine protected areas

Fishermen of the Northern Shelf Bioregion seek solutions through consultations

BC Green Party leader visits Wet’suwet’en camps at heart of pipeline conflict

Adam Olsen calls for better relationship between Canada and First Nations

Haida Gwaii libraries announce their most popular books from the past year

These titles had islanders booking it to the library in 2019

Route 26 reinstated from Skidegate to Alliford Bay

B.C. Ferries service will begin later in January

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in lingerie store

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Canucks extend home win streak to 8 with 4-1 triumph over Sharks

Victory lifts Vancouver into top spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

‘Extensive’ work planned at Big Bar landslide ahead of salmon, steelhead migration

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan visited the site of the slide from June

Most Read