Snooping Idle No More -

Snooping Idle No More

When Native protesters were talking last year, CSIS was paying close attention


Blair Gable

Sitting in her teepee on Ottawa’s Victoria Island in December 2012, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence was officially starting her hunger strike, breathing fire into the Idle No More movement and setting off a chain reaction that would eventually force Ottawa into talks on the nature of Canada’s relationship with First Nations. Meanwhile, five blocks away as the crow flies, the federal government’s security and emergency nervous system was ramping up its efforts to keep tabs on the movement. Just how extensive, and often ham-handed, the surveillance was is only now coming to light with the release of thousands of new documents.

The little-known Government Operations Centre ran that surveillance program from Ottawa’s Laurier Avenue West. Half of the program included public “situational awareness reports” on the protests. But the government also prepared secret “restricted distribution addendums” that were forwarded to CSIS, the RCMP and the Defence Ministry’s Canadian Joint Operations Command. They included exclusive information on proposed economic disruptions, such as bridge and rail blockades. One classified report released Jan. 2 noted the joint American-Canadian-operated Blue Water Bridge “would not tolerate any bridge closures/slowdowns.”

CSIS’s involvement is revealed in other ways. On Jan. 17, representatives from Aboriginal Affairs, the RCMP and the spy agency’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) met to discuss the “potential for escalation” for the movement. The centre, created in 2004 and housed within CSIS, does threat assessments for domestic and foreign terror attacks. According to a CSIS spokesperson, ITAC was only involved due to a threat against Idle No More itself. “ITAC does not monitor Idle No More, as they do not meet the definition of terrorism from the Criminal Code of Canada,” the spokesperson says. Meeting notes suggest officials feared that outside groups were attempting to infiltrate Idle No More. “Non-Aboriginal movements [are] starting to move in,” the notes stated, including “anarchists” and the “black bloc.” CSIS would not comment on the specifics of their concerns.

Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay—which includes Spence’s Attawapiskat reserve—is not surprised at the resources Ottawa poured into its response to the protest. “The message was always that these manifestations of outpouring of First Nations were something that needed to be managed, something to contain and possibly a threat,” he says. He accepts there may have been more radical elements in the movement. “Of course there are other left-wing groups that might join, but there was never any sense, as far as I can see, of menace or threat.”

Emails to and from Aboriginal Affairs staffers cite social media and “open-source reporting” as main sources of information—something Pamela Palmater, a political science professor at Ryerson University and a First Nations activist heavily involved in Idle No More, saw first-hand. She’d suspected government staffers were watching her social-media profiles. “They’re easy to pick out on Facebook,” she says. They’d add her as a friend and offer counterpoints to her posts that bore a striking resemblance to departmental talking points. “Who is it they’re watching? They’re watching people like me, who have no criminal record, doing nothing violent.”

Palmater says that at one talk she gave about Idle No More, she jokingly said that if any government staffers were in the audience, they were obliged to come forward. By the end, three staffers from Aboriginal Affairs and Justice had lined up to out themselves.

At one point, a group of developers created an Idle No More app that allowed activists to share information and plan protests, flash mobs and round dances. Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Michael Wernick contacted his communications director to see if the office could surreptitiously piggyback on the app to get its own message across. “Is it in any way feasible to get our backgrounders into the flow of this app without the appearance of [government] ringers calling into an open-line show?” he asks in one document.

Whether the government actually followed through is not clear. However Steven Bryant, who co-created the app, says, “We definitely did wonder when we had some of our signups.” He says a slew of the addresses came from downtown Ottawa, and he suspected that government staff were using his app.

Media lines from the department stress that the federal government does not operate as Big Brother to First Nations: “[Aboriginal Affairs] does not perform any type of ‘surveillance’ of any individuals, groups, or communities,” says one communiqué. Palmater scoffs at that, citing the case of Cindy Blackstock, a First Nations child rights advocate who was under surveillance by the government’s own admission. With Idle No More, it’s snooping, not spying; still, “I don’t think they should be treating us like domestic terrorists,” says Palmater.


Snooping Idle No More

  1. Look up Johnny Verona—one of Harpers Goons…on facebook=spy=former project manager with Indian and Northern Affairs.

  2. Another ” Wake -up call ” meaning uprising in a good way….

  3. Every time a protest movement sprouts up the government keeps tabs on them in case it turns ugly, and every time people are shocked that it happened.

    Whether its protesting the Olympics or Idle No More, no one can know where the movement will go. Although hind sight is a wonderful tool to criticize government action, it’s not an effective way to combat potential domestic terrorism.

    • So an Aboriginal rights movement that contains mostly women and elders is a terrorist threat is it? You don’t need hindsight to tell that. All you need to do is open your eyes and your mind.

      • How are they supposed to know it’s mostly women and elders unless they keep tabs on the movement?

        • I’m sorry, but isn’t that rather obvious just from following coverage by APTN, as i did? In any case there’s a difference between keeping tabs and spying on people anonymously, with the intent to influence the debate for political reasons. I expect the official authorities to keep an eye on potential troublemakers, i do not expect my govt to do it off its own bat.

          • APTN is hardly a source to turn to to avoid folks intending to “influence the debate for political reasons”, whatever the so-called “debate” might be.

          • That’s where you’re wrong. APTN was the go to source for many MSM orgs and journalists, simply because they were closest to, and most familiar with the Aboriginal community. OTW they did a credible job of covering what must have been a difficult story for them – confronting racist attitudes always is.

          • They rarely (if ever) confront racist attitudes, and seldom even report when and where people get called ‘apples’, for example, or are excoriated for being successful in their lives off the reserve.

          • No, they aren’t perfect. But if you’re trying to imply the historical racist scale is equally balanced between native and none native you’re delusional.

          • “perfect”? They don’t even bother to try.

            And it’s racism today that makes a difference in people’s lives today, not some old-timey stories.

            And racism is far more rampant on indian reserves and in the offices of activists like Palmater than it is anywhere else.

          • I don’t think you have any room to judge. The INM protests smoked more then a few old – timey racists out into the open. You’re not remotely concerned about addressing the problems of concerns of FN’s people, you simply want to tell them how to fit into modern Canada on your terms…can’t get more old-timey then that. Give it up. They know how to play the game now and they are playing to win. And why not, they don’t have much more to lose anyway.

          • Here you go with the acronyms again.

            Trying to prevent people from becoming sustainably self sufficient because they happen to come from a reserve is about as racist as can be imagined.

            The idea that someone has to follow some particular culture ‘because they were born that way’ makes a mockery of the freedoms we have in Canada to make of ourselves what we wish to.

          • You are truly a commited neo-con aren’t you?who’s preventing them from doing anything? Me? Liberals? The mafia? They make that choice to embrace their own culture or not all on their own. If the majority of FNs wanted to adopt a fee simple model or even leave the reserve behind completely and assimilate, it would have happened long ago. It hasn’t because they choose not to. Jeez what kind of a moron are you?

          • A school system that more and more is teaching indian culture instead of useful social skills. for example, is pushing people to continue to moulder within a constrained paradigm.

          • Twaddle! There are lots of aboriginal kids in our schools. The time they spend working on cultural issues does provide them with confidence and social skills. I suppose you object to attempts to retain their language also?

          • It’s not the ones in regular schools that are at risk, but the ones in specialized native immersion systems, including the ones on reserve schools.

            The time consumed trying to ‘be’ indian detracts from the time that could be usefully spent elsewhere.

            My schooling never tried to waste my time getting me to ‘be’ any of my ancestral cultures.

          • Have you even been in a reserve school? Taught at one? I have( Strickly speaking i subbed, my wife taught) It was a remote BC school, a place where they were trying to revive the culture. There was no immersion programme; apart from some junior native language classes and field trips with elders, the BC provincial programme was followed; these kids need to graduate.
            I don’t believe you have any idea what you’re talking about.

          • A person who loses his culture loses his ways!!!Its obvious that this guy went to school and didn’t learn anything, and is here just to get a rise. You just sound silly!

      • Any movement that sets out to terrify people and thereby keep them from using public thoroughfares is a movement that needs careful scrutiny.

        And the violence that all too often results from indian protests means that the authorities need to remain vigilant.

        • I know conservatives’ brains have enlarged fear centres but geez, that’s got to be debilitating for you.

          • Do you remember Oka?

          • Did it terrify you?

            There, there, dear.

          • A police officer was killed… That’s a terrible tradegy that should be avoided, fear has nothing to do with it.

          • “fear has nothing to do with it”

            Then why did you reply to my comment?

        • Your lying, as usual on this subject. I can watch youtube too you know.

          • Lying about what?

            Seeing grown men (not women and children) assaulting someone trying to drive to work?

          • If you’re talking about the video in Edmonton, i saw it too. While it’s a major pain,[ and illegal i assume] it does not justify driving your vehicle through a road block of people. You’ve lied about that video before. Care t cite some more cases? How about the big lug who decided to march into the centre of a peaceful protest and round dance in WEM, hold up a sign and pretty near provoke a brawl?

          • Nothing justifies blocking a road being used by people.

            People have a right to make peaceful use of a public thoroughfare paid for by public taxes.

            It’s not THEIR road to block.

            And how does dancing provoke a brawl? I’m not sure what you mean by the acronym WEM, but he would have as much right to peaceful protest as anyone else.

            Or do you think only people who agree with you should have any rights? Or are you just racist?

          • The incident occurred in west Edmonton mall, possibly it’s still on you tube – check it out. And no it wasn’t a case of his right to peaceful protest, he chose to walk into the middle of them with intent to provoke a confrontation.
            People have a right to use the roads freely, but not intentionally ram a truck through a human roadblock, illegal or not…use some common sense bud. After this incident the protesters allowed folks through because they realized they might be endangering the public.
            But the law is full of ambiguities around the question of civil disobedience…i suggest you learn something about it before putting labels on people you don’t like.

          • How do you know what his intent might have been?

            How is it that you think he had no right to his own peaceful counterprotest?

            And if walking about supposedly is confrontational, how much more confrontational is it to gather in a mob to deny someone access to public property, or even access to their own property?

          • He deliberately walked into the centre of their group and set up shop, holding a loft his own message, which the folks there took offense to. What part of a provocation don’t you get? If he had stood 20 or 30 feet away from them there likely would have been little or no fuss. He was looking for a confrontation…get it!

          • Understand then, that someone standing off to the side of a road with a sign is a peaceful protester.

            Somebody standing in the middle of the road is looking to create a confrontation, and is thus violent in intent.

          • I would say they were risking a confrontation, not necessarily a violent one, but the risk is there. After the woman tried to drive through the decided not to attempt to stop people. I would agree they have no right to block a major road, particularly if there’s no alternative.

          • A confrontation is necessarily violent. An occupation is necessarily violent, a blockade is necessarily violent.

            They all carry the implicit violence in the threat to whomever might want to go about their day to day business despite the intrusion.

          • A confrontation has to be violent … I’m sure Gandhi wouldn’t have agreed with you.

      • What matters is not how a movement starts, but where it ends. If you remember, there were much more militant sections of the idle no more movement threatening to “bring Canada’s economy to its knees”. Thankfully it would seem that calmer heads prevailed.

        One of the governments primary primary responsibilities is to maintain peace and uphold the rule of law. If that means keeping tabs on protest groups that have the potential of becoming violent then so be it. One would have to be completely naive to think there was no possibility of Idle No More becoming more dangerous than it did.

        • You find nothing odd or disturbing about a govt dept or agency snooping on protest movements and then passing on secret reports to the professional authorities [rcmp/csis] then? Isn’t watching out for potential trouble and violent elements, nipping possible Okas supposed to be the job of the security types? In this case we have govt civil servants spying and snooping on Canadians and then passing that info on to the rcmp & csis, isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?
          I suggest you read some of the Blackwood story and see if you’re still so sanguine about all of this.
          Edit: The fact that there were a minority of militant individuals [ most likely well known anyway, as in Chief Terry Nelson] is hardly an excuse for widespread snooping and spying on a largely peaceful protest movement.

    • And of course, who knows what potential you have to commit terrorism if the government doesn’t keep tabs on you?

  4. Funny how she didn’t lose any weight.

  5. A person once asked me what my culture and lifestyle was. I told them it’s something you have to live with to understand. It is something you cannot buy in the store, trade, or give away; it is something you are born into.

    If you forget who you are, you cannot live in peace. That’s why I enjoy showing people that my culture is alive and well!!!

  6. Well….all bias aside, if the government didn’t keep tabs on all protest uprisings and plans to cause public turmoil I would be slightly concerned. Protests often cause unnecessary violence. Besides isn’t the point of these protests to catch government attention? so I don’t actually see the point in complaining about the government keeping an eye on things without stopping them directly.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am mostly against most government bull, but I don’t see the point of this article.

  7. What is the author’s main argument? I don’t get what the author is trying to say.