Wednesday April 16, 2014

Knox: Cards stacked against activists

We shouldn’t be surprised that the RCMP and CSIS kept tabs on environmentalists during this year’s Northern Gateway hearings. Given the tensions around the proposal, some security planning was needed.

Nor should we be surprised that our police and spy agencies meet regularly with energy companies. In the post-Sept. 11 world, sharing intelligence to keep al-Qaida at bay makes sense.

Somewhere, though, the line blurred. Emails released last week show a cosy relationship
in which CSIS, a section of the RCMP, our pro-pipeline federal government, the National
Energy Board and energy companies are inside the club, while those who oppose Enbridge’s proposal are treated like woolly headed radicals working against the national interest.

Which leads to the obvious question: If that’s what Ottawa thinks of British Columbians who worry about oil tankers doing an Exxon Valdez in the tricky inside waters of our coast, how seriously will it listen to them?

The emails were obtained by the online Vancouver Observer. They showed communications between the RCMP, CSIS, the National Energy Board and its security chief before and during the regulatory hearings into Enbridge’s proposal to pipe Alberta bitumen to a tanker terminal at Kitimat.

The messages talk of using social media and other sources to monitor everything from the Sierra Club to a meeting in a Kelowna church basement to the annual all-native basketball tourney in Prince Rupert.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reports Ottawa has been spying on Canadian environmental organizations. Since 2005, twice-a-year meetings involving energy companies, police, CSIS and other federal agencies have been convened to discuss threats to the energy sector, including challenges from green groups. The Guardian produced the agenda for one such meeting in May: sponsored by Natural Resources Canada, it was held at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, with breakfast, lunch and coffee provided by Enbridge and a networking mixer paid for by Bruce Power and Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners.

The thing is, for all the snooping, the emails make it clear that at no time was a specific threat to the Northern Gateway hearings detected.

Nevertheless, security arrangements bordered on the absurd when the regulatory road show hit Victoria: Police everywhere, no public access, Northern Gateway opponents treated like wild-eyed anarchists even though they looked  more like a United Church prayer circle, a bunch of grey-haired retirees in fleece vests and Gore-Tex.

That betrays a troubling mindset by a federal government that starts with the assumption that anyone who disagrees with the Northern Gateway plan is by definition a kook, a fringe character hiding behind a balaclava or one of those moustachioed Occupy Everything masks.

This isn’t about whether the pipeline proposal is good or bad, but about the way Ottawa views its own citizens and about a clubby relationship where corporate and government interests are intertwined. For opponents, it’s like watching a ref hanging out with the other team before a game.

Jack Knox writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.

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