Tip of the Fear: These Three Things Should Keep Anti-Pipeline Activists Awake at Night

15 Jan

This article originally posted for Stop C-51: Toronto at www.stopc51to.org/blog

Syndicated with permission.


Hopefully you read my primer earlier this week about actions being taken by anti-pipeline activists here in Canada and potential risks under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015. I’m opining on this subject because through my own activism with groups like STOPC51TO, PipeLeaks, 350.org and Greenpeace I’ve become a passable expert on two things: pipeline politics and fighting the police state. I actually joined the C-51 campaign last February precisely because I was concerned about ways in which the legislation could be applied to the anti-pipeline advocacy for projects like Enbridge’s Line 9 and TransCanada’s Energy East. For anti-pipeline activists, we’re operating on the cutting edge or “the tip of the fear”, so I’ll try to break down what it is that we need to be concerned about.

Relevant portions of the Act:

“activity that undermines the security of Canada” means any activity, including any of the following activities, if it undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada:


(c) espionage, sabotage or covert foreign-influenced activities;


(f) interference with critical infrastructure;

Immediate Risks to Pipeline Activists under Bill C-51

These risks are particularly present at this time for participants in land defence initiatives and the actions of Line 9 opponents opposing Enbridge’s pipelines in Ontario.


1. Information Sharing

There is now essentially blanket access with an incredibly low threshold of proof required for 17 different agencies to pull information from government databases including the tax history, medical records, police-interactions, vehicle registration information, travel history, union membership, education records etc. of suspects in security cases.

This means that a huge amount of metadata that would normally be protected under the privacy act can be aggregated and combed through by state security agencies in a manner which can only be described as invasive. The low evidentiary threshold required to access this data means that an individual can be targeted even just because they fall under suspicion of opposing a pipeline (this could theoretically include posting on social media or writing blog articles like this one.)


2. Preventative Detention

Activists involved in plans which directly target or advocate for the targeting of infrastructure are subject to an increased likelihood of preventative detention. While the language on C-51 in the media has mostly revolved around terrorism, it is important to note that the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 does not sufficiently discriminate between activism and terrorism in its definition of “threats to the security of Canada” and the evidentiary threshold for proving such threats has been significantly lowered.

Opposing or shutting down a pipeline is treated the same under this definition as planning a Mumbai/Paris style infantry raid with a jihadist cell. If you’re an activist who is suspected of planning to carry out an action which might be subject to the above definition, you’re in danger of being preventatively arrested using the same laws that would be used to target Daesh affiliates in Canada or Canadians seeking to travel to join terror groups.


3. “Disruption” Policing

If you or your associates have been identified as being suspects in interference with “critical infrastructure”, it is now entirely plausible for police or state security to engage in disruption policing. Disruption is a broad-brush term for proactive interference with perceived “criminal” operations where those actions do not explicitly lead toward an arrest under the Canadian Criminal Code. Here’s an example of a disruption operation from a Climate Camp in Kent, England.

Under C-51 this can mean taking down sympathetic websites or social media accounts, (justified as removal of terrorist propaganda) infiltrating groups, (intelligence led policing) blocking or interfering with communications or physical access, (disruption) inciting people to commit crimes, planting evidence, discrediting movement leaders or pretty much any practice which serves to prevent the execution of a plan to threaten the security of Canada and which does not kill the target or violate their sexual integrity.


No Crystal Balls: What happens next?

I don’t own a crystal ball, so I can’t tell you what comes next, but here are some suggestions based in credible scenarios:

Emergent anti-pipeline actions present a “networked threat”. In coordination with Enbridge, state Security will use portions of C-51 to engage in a similarly networked response. This approach might look like a major investigative effort involving provincial and municipal police in multi-agency coordination with federal intelligence agencies. It might mean asking American, Australian or British “Five Eyes” (FVEY) partners to spy on activists in situations where CSIS, RCMP or the CSE have investigative blind-spots.

A popular and (unfortunately, overused) acronym in Canadian security circles is the “Integrated National Security Enforcement Team” or INSET. Using new powers under C-51, such a team could engage in identifying and proactively undermining the operations of perceived threat actors. Through interagency and intergovernmental information and intelligence sharing agreements the INSET team also turns a frontline municipal police officer in Canada into a de-facto extension of American, British, Australian (etc.) security apparatuses. INSET and FVEY are huge threats to both liberty and sovereignty.

INSET teams patrolled the Vancouver Olympics and 2013 Anti-Fracking protests in Rexton, New Brunswick. The involvement of First Nations in opposition to infrastructure (as with the Rexton standoff or the Unis’tot’en land defence camp near Houston, BC) looks more like Low Intensity Conflict than traditional activism when contrasted to the militaristic approach taken by state security. These legitimate actions by the original inhabitants of this land are not subject to anything even close to resembling a proportional response from the state.

Sabotage actions against infrastructure and land defence initiatives result directly from the failure of the state to obtain consent of First Nations or other communities. These actions and many others are clearly at risk of suppression or disruption legalized by new powers under the Act. This concern about the impact the language of the Act might have on First Nations campaigners was expressed by Amnesty International as early as March 2015.

It is already public knowledge that CSIS has spied on pipeline opponents in BC, while leaked RCMP documents identify ‘anti-petroleum extremists’ as a growing threat to the security of Canada. Both of these incidents occurred before Bill C-51 was even tabled in the house and well before the anti-pipeline battle had escalated to physical interference with infrastructure. If you thought that state security was interested in the anti-pipeline movement before these actions, you haven’t seen anything yet.


Not Doctors, Not Lawyers:

Please bear in mind that at STOPC51TO we’re experts on the Anti Terrorism Act, 2015 but we’re definitely not legal experts. None of what we tell you or post on our website should be taken to construe legal advice. The best advice that we do have for you: in any uncertainty around legal matters, you should direct your query to a qualified legal expert.




Image used in this article from here made available under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0


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