Tag Archives: Government Operations Centre

Federal Government Eyes Protests In National ‘Risk Forecast’

 By Jim Bronskill  Use of social media, the spread of “citizen journalism,” and the involvement of young people are among the key trends highlighted by a federal analysis of protest activity in Canada over the last half-decade.

Use of social media, the spread of “citizen journalism,” and the involvement of young people are among the key trends highlighted by a federal analysis of protest activity in Canada over the last half-decade.

By Jim Bronskill | The Canadian Press

Use of social media, the spread of “citizen journalism,” and the involvement of young people are among the key trends highlighted by a federal analysis of protest activity in Canada over the last half-decade.

A growing geographic reach and an apparent increase in protests that target infrastructure such as rail lines are also boosting the impact of demonstrations, says the Government Operations Centre analysis, obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service included the spring 2014 risk forecast in materials prepared for two meetings of the deputy ministers’ committee on resources and energy last April.

The meetings were driven by the federal government’s desire to plan for protests that might happen in response to resource development decisions on projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The newly released documents heighten fears about government anti-terrorism legislation that would allow much easier sharing of federally held information about people, said Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

“To us, this just looks like the example of exactly why we ought to be concerned about these provisions.”

The operations centre — an Ottawa-based hub that would figure heavily in responding to a national emergency — based the forecast for the spring and summer protest season on statistics gleaned from more than five years of significant demonstrations in Canada. It also drew on the results of an April 2014 meeting that included nine other federal partners.

It found demonstrations generally fell into four primary issue categories: social, political, environmental and First Nations.

The “notoriety and success” of civil society efforts such as the Arab Spring, the aboriginal Idle No More movement, the Occupy protests, and anti-pipeline demonstrations have inspired Canadian citizens to start grassroots initiatives and make their voices heard, the study notes.

Few demonstrations rise to the level of national interest, and most are peaceful and short-lived, the analysis adds.

The operations centre predicted a low risk during the 2014 protest season, with the possibility of medium-level events — such as disruption to transportation routes.

Officials felt opposition to pipelines and oil-and-gas fracking, as well as broader environmental and aboriginal issues, could lead to “large, disruptive, or geographically widespread protests” but no one had information to indicate “significant organizing activity” in this regard.

Social media, citizen journalism increasing reach

Still, the analysis says “influencing factors” must be considered:

  • Social media use that has given civil society movements an expanded digital reach, allowing them to organize larger numbers in more locations;
  • Citizen journalism that spreads alternative information into the mainstream through social media and other Internet forums;
  • Engagement of youth by issue-related movements established in the last five years.

For the operations centre, it means that individual protests once considered unimportant “are now noted” due to their potential to spawn supporting demonstrations in other towns and cities.

As an example, the analysis points to a one-week aboriginal blockade of a CN rail line in Sarnia, Ont., in December 2012 that disrupted delivery of chemical supplies. The Via Rail passenger corridor in central Ontario was also the focus of protests, and ports of entry, such as the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, were targeted.

The systematic monitoring of peaceful demonstrations outlined in the memos is likely unconstitutional, as it creates a chilling effect on freedom of association, said human rights lawyer Paul Champ.

“In a true democracy, protest and dissent should be celebrated, not investigated.”

The federal operations centre’s monitoring of protest activity stirred concern last year when the NDP accused the government of using the agency to spy on demonstrators.

Roxanne James, parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister, defended the centre’s work at the time, saying it monitors any event that may pose a risk to citizens.

“I think that most Canadians in this country would expect nothing less.”

Emails show federal officials worried about second Idle No More movement

Negotiations between protesters and police in Rexton, N.B., as police began enforcing an injunction to end an ongoing demonstration against shale gas exploration in eastern New Brunswick on Thursday, Oct.17, 2013. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Negotiations between protesters and police in Rexton, N.B., as police began enforcing an injunction to end an ongoing demonstration against shale gas exploration in eastern New Brunswick on Thursday, Oct.17, 2013. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Benjamin Shingler | The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Federal officials closely tracked the fallout of an RCMP raid on a First Nations protest against shale-gas exploration in New Brunswick, at one point raising concerns it could spawn another countrywide movement like Idle No More.

Documents obtained under access-to-information legislation reveal a lengthy email chain last fall monitoring events related to a blockade near Rexton, N.B., about 70 kilometres north of Moncton.

Members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, who were concerned about the environmental impact of shale-gas development, didn’t want energy company SWN Resources to do testing work on their traditional territory.

Police officers enforced an injunction on Oct. 17 to end the blockade of a compound where the company stored exploration equipment.
The early-morning raid led to violent clashes between officers and protesters. By the end of the day, six police cars had been torched and 40 people arrested.

As the situation unfolded, a government official sent an email reporting “growing support of protesters by first nation (sic) communities and other groups across the country.”

“An ‘Idle No More’ like movement of protests is reportedly being planned starting tomorrow,” wrote Alain Paquet, director of operations for Public Safety Canada.

“We will keep you informed through our Situation Reports…”
Those in the email chain included staff within the Privy Council Office, the central bureaucracy which serves the prime minister and cabinet.

The Government Operations Centre, an arm of Public Safety Canada, emailed out daily reports detailing planned protests across the country.

On its website, the centre says it provides an “all-hazards integrated federal emergency response to events.”

A notice emailed later on Oct. 17 gave a rundown of planned protests and whether they posed a threat of violence.

“Other than the events at Rexton, N.B., so far calls are for peaceful action,” the notice said.

“Most of the protest activity to date under the Idle No More banner or related environmental or First Nations issues activities have been peaceful.”

The daily updates were compiled using media reports and information from the RCMP. But much of the information was derived by monitoring social media postings from the protesters themselves.

One update noted that the “creators of Idle No More in Lethbridge, AB, said via Twitter that they wasted no time in getting a group together to march down the city’s main drag Thursday afternoon.”

It also noted reports of “small demonstrations in New York City and Washington, D.C. outside the Canadian missions,” as well as in Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Another document outlined the “key messages” for the RCMP when fielding questions about its handling of the New Brunswick blockade, which protesters argued had been heavy-handed.

“Our members demonstrated incredible professionalism as they worked to resolve the situation,” one bullet point in the document said.

“Some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at them and sprayed them with bear spray. Setting police cars on fire created a dangerous situation for all present and at that point our members were forced to physically confront some in the crowd who refused to obey the law.”

By Sunday, Oct. 20, three days after the arrests, a government update said “the number of protests continues to decline.”

“Less than five are planned for today according to the Idle No More website with one protest planned for Saint John, New Brunswick on Monday,” the email said.

Susan Levi-Peters, one of the protesters and a former chief, said the emails reflect how Ottawa is more focused on trying to control aboriginal people rather come up with solutions.

“Canada has to have a better relationship with First Nations people,” said Levi-Peters, who ran for the NDP in 2011.

“I think Ottawa is misunderstanding First Nations people. And they’re getting more educated. I think Ottawa is in a shock because they don’t know how to treat them anymore.”

The shale-gas protests died down after Texas-based SWN Resources wrapped up its exploration work and left the province in December.

Last month, two men involved in the events of Oct. 17 were sentenced to 15 months in jail.

Germain Breau, a 21-year-old of the Elsipogtog First Nation, was found guilty of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and four counts of pointing a firearm.

Aaron Francis, a 20-year-old of the Eskasoni First Nation, was convicted of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
Both men were also given two years probation following their jail time.

An email to Public Safety Canada asking whether it is standard procedure to closely track social media, media and RCMP reports drew the following response: “The GOC provides strategic-level coordination on behalf of the Government of Canada in response to an emerging or occurring event affecting the national interest.”