In response to our Toronto Star article exposing a police unit that monitored Indigenous protest in BC, the RCMP issued a letter — see below — to “First Nations Leaders and Communities”.
They call the article “irresponsible,” “sensationalist” and “not correct.”
Sounds to me like damage control, but let’s assess their concerns.
The letter is mostly a quibble with our use of the terms “spying” and “surveillance.” This is the definition of “spying” I found in the Oxford dictionary: “to work for a government or other organization by secretly obtaining information about enemies or competitors.”
The public didn’t know an RCMP division was monitoring First Nations protests. It wasn’t exactly advertised. Wouldn’t that make it a case of “secretly obtaining information”? And wouldn’t that constitute “spying”?
The RCMP spokesperson writes: ‘the journalist used words like RCMP “spying” and “surveillance”, somehow suggesting we were infiltrating meetings and so on. I assure you this was not the case and the information was collected from open source as well as discussion with First Nations leadership.’
First, we never stated, or even implied, that they infiltrated meetings. Certainly, the kind of spying we were describing wasn’t of the break-and-entering, phone-tapping and room-bugging variety. Police use those techniques and others, of course, but the kind of surveillance we exposed was of a different sort — the political targetting of groups engaged in activities perceived as a threat to the status quo. (There is plenty of evidence to show that this surveillance, under the federal Conservative government, is escalating because of increased First Nation protest in the face of unwanted resource extraction and development.)
Interestingly, the spokesperson has nothing to say about the “industry reports,” nor how they found out about a private meeting between First nations and environmental organizations.
What also caught my eye was that the RCMP spokesperson acknowledges they gathered information from discussions with First Nation leadership (this might explain how they found out about the aforementioned meeting).
These conversations are obviously not public. Which makes it sound like the very definition of cultivating informants — another method of spying and surveillance.
Would the RCMP be able to reveal which “First Nations leadership” it consulted? Perhaps it happened with a figure like Elmer Derrick, the negotiator with the Gitxsan Treaty Office who signed a deal with Enbridge and was then hounded by angry community members. He later received a federal post; MP Nathan Cullen suggested it was a reward for supporting the pipeline.
The spokesperson states that the RCMP’s main objective is to monitor any “challenge to public safety.” In the documents, we didn’t find a single occasion where public safety — that is, the prevention of danger to people’s bodies or lives — was at stake. We did, however, notice that the RCMP’s attention was directed at situations where the safety of corporate profits and government control over First Nations territories might be jeopardized. Which might point us to the real nature of the RCMP’s work.
Open Letter to First Nations Leadership and Communities.
From: Paul RICHARDS [mailto:Paul.RICHARDS@rcmp-grc.gc.ca]
Sent: Thursday, May 10, 2012 6:10 PM
Subject: Open Letter to First Nations Leadership and Communities.
Dear First Nation Leaders and Community Members:
RE: Toronto Star Article on RCMP ‘Spying’ on First Nations.
By way of introduction, I am the RCMP Officer based in Vancouver and responsible for Aboriginal Policing Services in British Columbia.
I wanted to write in an effort to be transparent and continue our open dialogue within this province with all First Nations, and the way in which this article was written, in my opinion, is not correct and creates misunderstanding.
To be clear, the documents referred to did not have any surveillance, source, informant or other information contained in them.
As the reporter mentions in his article, it is simply a summary of issues concerning First Nation communities where dispute or legal protest is occurring, as gathered from open source information (Internet, news reports, social networks, etc).
This document is used by myself and other police managers province-wide to fully understand each and every situation throughout BC and any potential for a situation where a challenge to public safety may possibly develop.
In the article, the journalist used words like RCMP “spying” and “surveillance”, somehow suggesting we were infiltrating meetings and so on. I assure you this was not the case and the information was collected from open source as well as discussion with First Nations leadership. In my view, the way it was reported is sensationalist, irresponsible and misrepresents what is actually contained in it.
It is the expectation of our communities and leadership that we, the police, be informed of the issues in our communities and understand the dynamics for all. We support dissent and legal protest, and understanding situations and upholding public safety means for everyone, no matter what your viewpoint on a particular issue.
I would also add that we try to maintain awareness of potential public safety issues for all communities throughout BC, not simply First Nations communities. I take issue with the journalist implying otherwise.
I thank you for hearing my voice and opinion on this matter.
Paul Richards, Supt
A/Deputy Criminal Operations Officer -
Martin Lukacs is a independent journalist based in Montreal.