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Canada  

Who is CSIS watching?

Canada's spy service collected some information about peaceful anti-petroleum groups, but only incidentally in the process of investigating legitimate threats to projects such as oil pipelines, says a long-secret federal watchdog report.

The newly disclosed report from the Security Intelligence Review Committee acknowledges concerns about a "chilling effect," stemming from a belief that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was spying on environmental organizations.

Advocacy and environmental groups Leadnow, the Dogwood Initiative and the Council of Canadians are mentioned in the thousands of pages of CSIS operational reports examined by the review committee.

But after analyzing evidence and testimony, the committee concluded the fears of CSIS surveillance were unjustified.

The heavily censored review committee report, completed last year and kept under wraps, is only now being made public because of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association's challenge of the findings in the Federal Court of Canada.

In its February 2014 complaint to the CSIS watchdog, the association alleged the spy service had overstepped its legal authority by monitoring environmentalists opposed to Enbridge's now-defunct Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

It also accused CSIS of sharing this information with the National Energy Board and petroleum industry companies, deterring people from expressing their opinions and associating with environmental groups.

The review committee's dismissal of the complaint has been known since September 2017, but a confidentiality order by the committee prevented the civil liberties association from releasing the report. As the association fights to overturn the dismissal, redacted versions of the detailed findings and related documents are being added to the public court record.

The association, which became concerned about CSIS activities through media reports, told the committee of a chilling effect for civil society groups from the spy service's information-gathering as well as comments by then-national resources minister Joe Oliver denouncing "environmental and other radical groups."

A CSIS witness testified the spy service "is not in the business of investigating environmentalists because they are advocating for an environmental cause, period."

Still, another CSIS witness spoke of the need for "domain awareness" to identify "potential triggers and flashpoints" — in part to ensure the service is aware of what is happening should a threat arise, the report says.

Ultimately, the review committee concluded CSIS's information collection fell within its mandate, and that the service did not investigate activities involving lawful advocacy, protest or dissent. The report indicates that any information on peaceful groups was gathered "in an ancillary manner, in the context of other lawful investigations."

The report also says there was no "direct link" between CSIS and the chilling effect groups mentioned in testimony before the committee.

The civil liberties association considers some of the findings contradictory, pointing to the 441 CSIS operational reports deemed relevant to the committee's inquiry, totalling over 2,200 pages.

For instance, one of the largely censored CSIS records, now disclosed through the court, says the reporting was further to "the Service's efforts in assessing the threat environment and the potential for threat-related violence stemming from (redacted) protests/demonstrations."



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