Has a waddle of penguins ever “liked” your Facebook page? If so, your account may have been monitored by the RCMP.
Officers with the national police force used a Facebook profile to pose as a broke student so as to communicate with protest groups in Toronto, according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act.
Through the Facebook page, RCMP agents prodded organizers with seemingly innocuous questions.
“Will there be food and drinks?” an officer wrote on the Facebook page for an anti-Novotel union rally in 2012. “Cause I am on a fixed student income and will bring some buddies to add to the numbers if we can grab some free food.”
In another instance, on the event page of a pro-Ukrainian demonstration, an agent asked organizers in January, 2014, if they were planning on “walking anywhere.”
The social media account, which went by the name of Bebop Arooney and had a profile picture of three penguins frolicking on a beach, tracked the Facebook pages of more than two dozen organizations in Toronto, ranging from Black Lives Matter Toronto and Idle No More to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
Six Jewish and Palestinian groups were also monitored.
WWF wrestler Mick Foley also attracted the Mounties’ attention. A second RCMP social media account — @angrycitizen123 — followed Foley on Twitter.
The RCMP confirmed it created both profiles but said they were not used for surveillance purposes.
“The (Facebook) account mentioned was opened in 2005 for operational reasons, and since that time, the RCMP’s social media practices have changed and evolved and now we used an official media account for such purposes,” a spokesperson said. “The Facebook account is historical and no longer relevant.”
The Facebook profile was deleted Thursday. The Twitter account is still online.
Among documents obtained by the Star was a screenshot that shows someone was logged into the social media account on April 13, 2015. At the time, the agency appeared to be monitoring a pro-Palestinian rally in Toronto.
“If there are no criminal investigation ongoing, then monitoring these groups is potentially problematic,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms Program. “Even though we think of social media as stuff that is out there in the public, the privacy commissioner’s office made it clear that it doesn’t cease to be personal information just because it is in that kind of forum.”
When reached last Wednesday by the Star, the targeted groups expressed frustration with the RCMP’s social media snooping.
“This is the disgusting reality of working for justice for black people,” Black Lives Matter Toronto, one of the groups monitored by the account, said in a statement. “You get treated as a threat, like you were doing something wrong. This will not deter us.”
Lis Pimental, president of UNITE HERE Local 75, the union behind the rally against the Novotel hotel chain, condemned the RCMP for seeming to impersonate a protester.
“The idea that the RCMP would attempt to interfere with the charter-protected rights of workers simply underscores the importance of those very rights,” she said. “It’s unacceptable for any employer to do it. It is doubly unacceptable for the RCMP, who are supposed to be here to protect us, to do it.”