Why does Canada spy on its own Indigenous communities?

Woodland Cree Tribe Walk protest, January 2017. Image: Joel Angel Juarez/Zuma Press/PA Images

Indigenous nations have emerged as vocal defenders of land and water, but state surveillance of these groups is disproportionate, and speaks of the broad criminalisation of Indigenous peoples.

This article is part of Right to Protest, a partnership project with human rights organisations CELS and INCLO, with support from the ACLU, examining the power of protest and its fundamental role in democratic society. 

Researchers and journalists have begun to reveal the extent to which Indigenous activists and organisations in Canada are subject to surveillance by police, military, national security intelligence agencies and other government bodies. While security agencies have long looked beyond ‘traditional’ national security threats and set their sights on activists – even in the absence of evidence linking these individuals or organisations to any violent criminal activity – this reality is increasingly the subject of media and public scrutiny. As Jeffrey Monaghan and Kevin Walby have written, the language of “aboriginal and multi-issue extremists” in security discourse blurs the line between threats to national security, matters of ordinary law enforcement, and lawful, democratic advocacy.

In this piece, we summarise some of what is known about the surveillance practices employed to keep tabs on Indigenous leaders and activists, and describe their impact on Charter-protected and internationally recognised human rights and freedoms.

Indigenous nations and peoples have emerged, worldwide, as vocal defenders of land and water, organising to protect ancestral territories and ways of life. In Canada, while aboriginal and treaty rights are constitutionally recognised and affirmed, the interpretation of those rights is highly contested and a matter frequently before the country’s highest court. Indigenous activists and organisations in Canada have led popular resistance to the development of new oil and gas pipelines, hydroelectric dams, mining operations, and other extractive industries that have significant environmental impact and which frequently encroach on Indigenous territories.

This resistance – with tactics ranging from peaceful protest and strategic litigation to the establishment of creative action camps and blockades – has frequently been met with a forceful police response. Through diligent research and investigative reporting, a pattern of extensive surveillance of these activities has also emerged – implicating law enforcement, intelligence agencies and numerous other government bodies.

The pattern of surveillance against Indigenous activists and organisations… can be characterised as disproportionate and alienating

Both freedom of expression and assembly are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forms part of the Canadian constitution. The freedom from unreasonable search and seizure – which provides constitutional protection for privacy – is also guaranteed. The law recognises certain limits to these rights, provided they further a compelling government objective and are proportionate to that objective. However, the pattern of surveillance against Indigenous activists and organisations that has emerged in Canada is one that can clearly be characterised as disproportionate and alienating, with no evidence that it is necessary. Though these operations are inherently covert, Indigenous activists, researchers and human rights advocates have begun – largely through access-to-information requests – to piece together a clearer picture of the ways in which this surveillance takes place. Below, we discuss surveillance of individual leaders, surveillance of communities and movements, and how the agencies and departments that gather information use and share it.

Idle No More protest. Image: Daniela Kantorova/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Surveillance of Indigenous leaders

Government agencies have engaged in surveillance and information-gathering activities focused on Indigenous leaders and activists. Take for example the case of Dr. Cindy Blackstock, who is a Gitksan activist for child welfare, the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, and a Professor of Social Work at McGill University. Dr. Blackstock’s organisation (along with the Assembly of First Nations) had sought justice at Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal regarding the federal government’s failure to provide equal funding for services for First Nations children, youth and families living on First Nations reserves. Access to information requests revealed that between 2009 and 2011, Dr. Blackstock was subject to extensive monitoring by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) – the government department responsible for Indigenous issues — and the Department of Justice. Officials monitored her personal and professional activities on Facebook and attended between 75 and 100 of her public speaking engagements, taking detailed notes and widely distributing reports on her activities. In 2013, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner found that by engaging in this personal monitoring – which was unrelated to her professional activities or her organisation’s case against the government – the Department of Justice and INAC had violated Dr. Blackstock’s privacy rights.

Similarly, Dr. Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaq lawyer, member of the Eel River Bar First Nation, and an Associate Professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Following public revelations that Dr. Cindy Blackstock was being monitored by the government, Dr. Palmater made access to information requests to INAC, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS – Canada’s national spy agency), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP – Canada’s national police force), and the federal Department of National Defence (DND). While many of the records sought were legally exempt from disclosure, Dr. Palmater noted that some portions of her request to CSIS were exempt under section 15(1)(c) of the Access to Information Act as relating “to the efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities.” In a statement to the Public Safety Committeeof the House of Commons related to its study of Bill C-51 (Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015) Dr. Palmater stated that INAC also admitted to having 750 pages of documentation on her activities and whereabouts, but had destroyed the files before they had the opportunity to give them to her.

Clayton Thomas-Muller’s case provides another example. Mr. Thomas-Muller is a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and a former Idle No Moreorganiser. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) National News obtained documents from criminology professor Dr. Jeffrey Monaghan demonstrating that in 2010 and 2011, information about Thomas-Muller (who was at the time a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)) had made its way into the RCMP’s Suspicious Incidents Report (SIR) despite acknowledgement that there was no specific criminal threat at issue: Thomas-Muller was simply planning a trip to the Wet’suwet’en action camp against the Northern Gateway pipeline. The report was referred for inclusion in the SIR on the basis that IEN was an ‘extremist’ group, although the basis for this characterisation, or how the group was designated as such, is not known.

Surveillance of communities and movements

The records detailing monitoring of individual activists and leaders speak to a larger pattern of surveillance against non-violent dissent, Indigenous-led social movements and their allies. As APTN reported in relation to the documents referring to Thomas-Muller, RCMP records also listed a number of groups as “involved persons,” including “the Defenders of the Land, Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice, Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Ruckus Society, Global Justice Ecology Project, Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the Indigenous Action Movement and the Wet’suwet’en Direct Action Camp.” In 2014, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed complaints against both the RCMP and CSIS, alleging unlawful surveillance against opponents of Northern Gateway that included many of the same organisations. While the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP launched an independent investigation, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) (the body responsible for CSIS oversight) instead held a series of secret hearings. They issued a decision in 2015, but barred the BCCLA from speaking about the outcome. The BCCLA has since applied for judicial review of this decision.

Just last month, documents obtained by VICE News demonstrate that the RCMP surveilled Indigenous activists who constructed a Tipi on Parliament Hill as part of Idle No More’s Unsettling Canada 150, a campaign coinciding with 150 years since Canadian confederation. Idle No More has come under government scrutiny on other occasions: in 2015 documents obtained by APTNconfirmed that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND, now INAC) shared information about peaceful protests led by the group with Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and passed on information about meetings between government and First Nations leaders to the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and others.

The Government Operations Centre (GOC) called an emergency teleconference… and widely circulated a spreadsheet detailing these solidarity events

In 2013, an RCMP raid on a Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick triggered a heated confrontation and dozens of arrests. Documents revealed that the Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit was also involved in monitoring the situation at Elsipogtog. In response to the raid, activists took to social media, calling for peaceful solidarity actions to take place in the following days. APTN revealed that the Government Operations Centre (GOC) called an emergency teleconference with a long list of federal departments and widely circulated a spreadsheet detailing these solidarity events. It included such events as “a jingle-dress healing dance in Kenora, Ont., a prayer ceremony in Edmonton and an Idle No More ‘taco fundraiser, raffle and jam session’ planned at the Native Friendship Centre in Barrie.”

Image: Brendan Bombaci/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Sharing and using the fruits of surveillance

The surveillance and monitoring of Indigenous communities and movements is in no way confined to the examples noted above. In 2011, the Toronto Starreported that a distinct Joint Intelligence Group (JIG) of the RCMP was formed specifically to monitor the activities of Aboriginal groups in 2007. While the unit was “dismantled” in 2010, the RCMP would not confirm whether the same activities were taking place under another name or program. Documents revealed that as of 2009, their activities focused on 18 “communities of concern,” flagged largely for their opposition to logging, mining or pipeline projects.

Journalists noted that the JIG reported on a weekly basis to approximately 450 recipients, including “unnamed ‘industry partners’ in the energy and private sector,” highlighting a potentially troubling information-sharing relationship between government and private corporations. The Dominion and a summary of these issues by Voices-Voix reported that intelligence sharing between government and private sector actors has regularly taken place through classified briefings, raising concern among Indigenous and environmental activists. As Clayton Thomas-Muller reflected in an interview with APTN National News following revelations that he had been under surveillance:

“We are challenging the most powerful corporate entities on the planet … What we have on our side is endless human resources. We have the power of our ancestors and traditions fueling us. We are intimately aware of the domestic surveillance that is happening as well as the agenda to criminalise Indigenous dissent.”

VICE News has also obtained documents demonstrating that Canada’s spy agency has taken a keen interest in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at the Oceti Sakowin Camp. In a 2016 CSIS document, the spy agency noted that “there is strong Canadian Aboriginal support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as many see similarities to their own struggles against proposed pipeline construction in Canada (Northern Gateway, Pacific Trails, Energy East, etc.).”

In 2015, the federal government passed legislation (Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015) that enabled even greater information-sharing practices amongst government agencies about “threats to critical infrastructure” or “the economic and financial stability of Canada”, both of which may provide an excuse to share information in a manner that chills and thereby threatens the constitutionally recognised right to protest. The same legislation afforded dramatic new “disruption” powers to CSIS. Over 100 Canadian legal academics wrote a lengthy analysis in opposition to the bill. Melina Laboucan-Massimo described the chilling effects of the legislation for openDemocracy in 2015:

“It is legislation like this that makes it difficult for people to not be scared into silence, and for people like me who believe that we need a just transition to renewable energy and engage in peaceful protests that may be seen as criminal in the eyes of the Canadian government. But this history is not new for us as Indigenous peoples here in Canada. It is the continuation of neo colonialism seen now in the form of resource extraction, environmental and cultural genocide.”

Bill C-51 is currently subject to a constitutional challenge led by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Despite promises to correct the unconstitutional aspects of Bill C-51, the current government’s proposed reform to national security law (Bill C-59) fails to address many of the concerns raised in that Charter challenge. The notion that peaceful resistance – such as opposition to pipeline projects or other private development – constitutes a meaningful threat to “critical infrastructure” encourages the profiling of Indigenous groups by Canada’s national security bodies.

The consequences of criminalisation

The Canadian government is only beginning to confront its history of violence and colonialism against Indigenous peoples. As Pam Palmater testified to the House of Commons in 2015:

“Every aspect of our identity has been criminalised, both historically and into the present day. In every single instance, we’ve had to resist all of these laws, keeping in mind that these were all validly enacted laws. It was legal to take Mi’kmaq scalps; it was legal to confine us to reserves; it was legal to deny us legal representation. All of these things were law in Canada. We had to be criminals, in that we had to break the law in order to preserve our lives, our physical security, and our identities.”

A systemic pattern of over-policing and over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government remains a core feature of our legal system

Sixty percent of First Nations children on reserve continue to live in poverty and there are over 70 First Nations communities where drinking water advisories have been in effect for one year or more. A systemic pattern of over-policing and over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government remains a core feature of our legal system. Though First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples comprise about 4% of the Canadian population, they make up over 23% of the federal inmate population, leading commentators to describe Canada’s prisons as “the new residential schools.” This pattern of criminalisation means that Indigenous people in Canada are more likely to be disproportionately subject to the kinds of “everyday surveillance” associated with poverty, urbanisation and incarceration, alongside the enhanced surveillance threats faced by those who are active on issues of land and water. The surveillance of Indigenous activists and organisations in Canada must be understood as part of this larger context.

The CCLA is concerned about the long-term impacts of government surveillance of individuals and communities in Canada generally, and of Indigenous activists in particular. While surveillance is most often discussed in terms of privacy rights – and while it is doubtlessly true that many forms of state surveillance are deeply invasive intrusions into the private lives of individuals and communities – privacy is not the only right at stake. In fact, the kind of government surveillance that Indigenous activists and groups have been subject to has the potential to affect a wide range of rights and freedoms protected by the Charter, as well as jeopardise many of our most deeply held democratic values. Pervasive surveillance creates a climate of insecurity, with the potential to discourage legitimate democratic participation, curtail peaceful assembly, and chill freedom of speech, of religious expression and of the press. When these consequences are disproportionately aimed at those engaged with the democratic process through their activism and political work, democracy, and the public interest as a whole, suffer.

The article Why does Canada spy on its own indigenous communities? was written by Lex Gill and Cara Zwibel  and published in openDemocracy on Dec 6 2017

This article was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.


‘Do Something Now!’: Indigenous Activists Plead for Action in Youth Suicide Crisis

A group that has been camped out at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada offices for two weeks marched down Yonge St. Friday to demand government action on northern Ontario’s suicide crisis.

Staff | Toronto Star

Beneath Friday’s pouring rain and dark skies, a group of Indigenous women continue the fight against northern Ontario’s suicide crisis outside the offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on St. Clair Ave.

They’ve been at it for more than two weeks. Geoffey Daybutch, who was asked to join the women outside INAC three days earlier to serve as a male voice from the First Nations community, stands guard as a man brushes past him with groceries and tells him to get off the sidewalk.

For Daybutch, this crisis hits close to home.

“The stories that are coming out from the suicide crisis is that some of the older children from the families are making their choice to commit suicide so that the younger kids will have enough food to eat,” he says, struggling to get the words out.

Daybutch is in Toronto because he too made that choice.

“This is a personal thing that I haven’t told anybody here: that’s why I left my home,” he says, tears in his eyes and barely able to talk.

“When we had my youngest brother, I knew we were struggling so I told my family I’ll come down to the city, I’ll leave so that there’s enough food for everyone. I never came up with the choice to off myself. I made the choice to come down south and make a difference and here I am.”

On Friday night, a few dozen activists marched their cause up Yonge St. to the office of Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, in a vigil for the nearly 300 under-20 Indigenous youth who’ve taken their lives in Northern Ontario since 1986.

Once the march began, and two lanes of traffic were blocked, lineups of cars waited patiently while others blared their horns in anger as drum rolls sounded out and flags and signs were carried north on Yonge St.

This is the second time in a year the activists have come to INAC to demand the federal government follow through on an election promise made to address a state of emergency declared last April by the northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

The state of emergency came after 100 people, including children, tried to kill themselves in the community of only 2,000.

On July 24, Indigenous leaders met with the federal government in Ottawa. Another meeting was arranged for September.

Out of the July meeting came four already-promised mental health workers for the northern community of Wapekeka and 20 more for Pikangikum, which is now the suicide capital of the world after five youth suicides last month, according to the vigil’s organizers.

“They have reneged and they’re going to have a meeting in September when they’re finished their holidays and vacation time,” says organizer Sigrid Kneve, two days after someone woke her up in the middle of the night to inform her that another Indigenous youth had taken her life.

This year alone, there have been more than 20 suicides in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which is located in northern Ontario and represents 49 First Nations communities.

“Since that meeting when they decided to have the meeting in September, another young person has killed themselves,” adds Kneve. “We want them to do something now! We don’t understand how it’s out of sight and out of mind.”

Outside their sidewalk tent, Toronto police frequently visit, stopping to check in and make sure they’re OK.

Bennett, too, often meets with them. But they say they are still awaiting action.

“How many young people are going to commit suicide from now until September?” asks Kneve.

For now, Daybutch waits on a sidewalk he has claimed as his own until his friends and family get the support he feels they deserve.

This story originally published Here.

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US Veterans Return to Standing Rock to Protect Native Americans Protesting Dakota Access Pipeline

Photo: Veterans Stand For Standing Rock/Facebook

Photo: Veterans Stand For Standing Rock/Facebook

By Black Powder | RPM Staff, Feb 12, 2017

US veterans are returning to Standing Rock to support and protect Native Americans still protesting the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

In January, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders to continue the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

According to The Guardian, Veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river.

It is unclear how many vets may arrive to Standing Rock; some organizers estimate a few dozen are on their way, while other activists are pledging that hundreds could show up in the coming weeks.

In December, thousands of veterans descended on Standing Rock to form a “human shield” between increasingly aggressive police and “water protector” protesters.


Veterans join activists in a march just outside the Oceti Sakowin camp during a snow fall as 'water protectors' continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Veterans join activists in a march just outside the Oceti Sakowin camp during a snow fall as ‘water protectors’ continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

But the presence of vets was not without controversy. Some said the groups were disorganized and unprepared to camp in harsh winter conditions, and others lamented that they weren’t following the directions of the Native Americans leading the movement.

Vets with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also suffered in the cold and chaotic environment without proper support, said Matthew Crane, a US navy veteran who is helping coordinate a return group from VeteransRespond.

His group has vowed to be self-sufficient and help the activists, who call themselves “water protectors”, with a wide range of services, including cleanup efforts, kitchen duties, medical support and, if needed, protection from police.

“This is a humanitarian issue,” said Crane, 33. “We’re not going to stand by and let anybody get hurt.”

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been asking protesters to leave the reservation since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to do an environmental review in December. This month, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent law enforcement to remove protesters, tribal leaders clarified that did not want anyone arrested or removed by force.

RT reports, the Tribe has vowed to fight the president’s order to push ahead with the Dakota Access pipeline despite the US Army Corps of Engineers stating it would cancel its planned environmental impact study and grant a permit for construction of the final phase of the pipeline project being built by Energy Transfer Partners.

According to the U.S. veterans who have headed back to Standing Rock (some who didn’t make it in December), they are there to protect the few hundred remaining, largely Native American, protesters from further attacks by police.

“We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” Air Force veteran Elizabeth Williams told the Guardian. “We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.”

At Standing Rock, indigenous activists say mass arrests and police violence have led some water protectors to develop PTSD, suffering symptoms that many US veterans understand well.

Police have deployed water cannons, rubber bullets and teargas at water protectors. Private security has used dogs to attack Native American demonstrators. Hundreds of water protectors have been arrested.

Video: VeteransRespond: Road To Standing Rock

Colombian Killings Of Human Rights Defenders Carried Out By Paramilitary Groups: Report

Daniel Abril Fuentes, a human-rights and environmental activist in Colombia’s department of Casanare, was killed last November. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.

Daniel Abril Fuentes, a human-rights and environmental activist in Colombia’s department of Casanare, was killed last November. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.

By Red Power Media, Staff | July 17, 2016

534 activists were assassinated across Colombia between 2011 and 2015, around 17 percent of them indigenous-rights or environmental activists.

  • While many assassinations remain unsolved due to corruption or the state’s inability to carry out effective investigations, human-rights watchdogs say the majority is orchestrated by paramilitary groups.

In the oil-rich department of Casanare in eastern Colombia, Daniel Abril Fuentes was known as a peasant farmer leader, defender of human rights, and constant critic of the oil interests he saw as a threat to his community and environment. Now, eight months after being shot dead, Trinidad, Abril’s name appears next to more than 500 others in a briefing documenting the assassinations of political activists in Colombia.

Published in April by the NGO Justice for Colombia (JFC), the briefing lists 534 political activists who were assassinated across the country between 2011 and 2015. Of these, 83 were indigenous-rights activists and 10 were environmental activists — a total of more than 17 percent. On average two activists were killed per week over the five year period.

“These are horrifying figures, and seeing the names written out it makes it more real. But this overall picture of political activists being killed [in Colombia] on a regular basis, unfortunately, isn’t a surprise to us, because it’s what we hear about every week,” Hasan Dodwell, JFC’s Campaigns Officer, told Mongabay.

However, contrary to the country’s declining homicide rate, data shows that murders of activists are actually increasing and are largely carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups.

534 political activists murdered in five years in Colombia.

534 political activists murdered in five years in Colombia.

The JFC briefing published by five different Colombian organizations, the human-rights monitor Programa Somos Defensores among them, shows Colombian activists are often targeted for their work against the expansion of natural-resource exploitation projects.

41 percent of activist assassinations in Latin America are linked to the defense of the environment, land, or indigenous rights.

Peasant activists are often targeted for defending their right to the land.

Attacks for economic interests

The JFC briefing documents assassinations in 26 of Colombia’s 32 departments. Of these, Antioquia in the northwest had the highest number of activists killed, followed by Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño in the west, and then Cordoba in the northwest.

According to Carlos Guevara, communications coordinator for Programa Somos Defensores, while these have been key zones, the high number of attacks on activists is largely driven by economic interests.

These include the cultivation of illicit crops and illegal gold mining — an industry the government regards as rivaling the drug trade in terms of revenue and the threat it poses.

A five decades-long internal conflict between the state and leftist guerrillas has normalized violence in these areas and is being used as an excuse or platform for the murders of political activists.

Peace talks in process since 2012, might be able to bring an end to the armed conflict but much more needs to be done to end to the political violence.

“Civilian rights violations directly derived from the armed conflict have decreased drastically,” Guevara said. “But what we see now is that the violence is becoming a phenomenon that is more localized and focused. It is now being more effectively directed at community leaders.”

Adelina Gómez Gaviria, an anti-mining activist in the Colombian department of Cauca, was killed in 2013. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.

Adelina Gómez Gaviria, an anti-mining activist in the Colombian department of Cauca, was killed in 2013. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.

Much like Daniel Abril in Casanare, Adelina Gómez Gaviria was reportedly gunned down for her stance against illegal mining in the western department of Cauca. At 36, Gaviria was known as a charismatic community leader with a local land-rights group who had organized a Mining and Environmental Forum that was attended by more than 1,200 local peasant farmers and indigenous people. After receiving death threats by phone warning her to stop her activist work, Gaviria was shot dead and her 13-year-old son wounded in 2013.

Paramilitary groups biggest threat to activists

While many assassinations remain unsolved due to corruption or the state’s inability to carry out effective investigations, Guevara asserted that the majority is orchestrated by paramilitary groups.

Although these groups officially laid down their arms under an agreement with the government in 2006, many local rights groups highlight their ongoing activity. However, the government does not officially recognize their existence. Instead it has relabeled them as BaCrim (for bandas criminales; “criminal groups” in English) so as not to undermine the 2006 demobilization process.

“Paramilitary groups, neo-paramilitary groups, BaCrim, or whatever you want to call them, are the biggest threat to activists. In our [recent] report we identify that they are responsible for 63 percent of attacks this year alone. Last year they also had a high percentage; they almost always have the highest percentage,” said Guevara.

Yet the state’s reluctance to recognize the existence of these groups makes it difficult to focus attention on them and protect activists, he added.

“There are far right sectors in the country that are hiding under the facade of BaCrim, and they have been doing so for years, such as the Aguilas Negras,” he said, referring to a paramilitary group active in drug trafficking.“

The Aguilas Negras emerged after the demobilization of paramilitary groups in 2006 | Photo: Radio Macondo

The Aguilas Negras emerged after the demobilization of paramilitary groups in 2006 | Photo: Radio Macondo

According to Guevara, in the last five years more than 800 activists have been threatened.

The quarterly report Guevara mentioned analyzed 113 reported aggressions against human rights defenders in Colombia between January and March of this year. It documents a total of 19 activists assassinated during that period, two of them environmental activists.

Unavoidable discrepancies

The JFC briefing inadvertently highlighted another major issue in Colombia: state negligence and abandonment. This is arguably most apparent in the Caribbean department of La Guajira, a region known for corrupt institutions and as a haven for criminal activities, including drug trafficking, the contraband gasoline trade, and extortion.

Despite this reality, the JFC briefing identified only one activist death in La Guajira since 2011, a figure that both local rights organizations and JFC admit is “unrealistic.”

“La Guajira is one of those departments submerged in darkness…the social fabric and organizations there are very weak, because the forms of violence that dominate ensure that silence governs. We are absolutely sure that that number is completely unrealistic,” said Guevara.

The problem, no organization is able to maintain a constant presence in the region due to ongoing threats and the immense level of fear felt by the population means that few reports of attacks or assassinations can be fully confirmed.

Dodwell from JFC said that the briefing’s assassination figures are “at least” numbers highlighting areas that require increased monitoring to obtain realistic figures.

Colombian State increasing efforts

Despite the high assassination figures, the Colombian state has made increasing efforts in recent years to ensure the safety of activists throughout the country. The National Protection Unit (UNP) within the Ministry of Interior is tasked with protecting threatened individuals, while the state’s human rights agency, the Ombudsman’s Office, continuously highlights human rights violations. Additionally, mechanisms such as the Ombudsman’s Office Early Warning System (SAT) have been important in the contextual analysis and prevention of many attacks.

Although SAT has become one of the best resources for activists around the country, Javier Orlando Tamayo, director of the complaints processing and monitoring department of the Ombudsman’s Office, agreed that more must be done to protect activists. But he asserted that the government is addressing the issue.

“In the case of Marcha Patriotica, the government has made the effort. It has visited the areas, conducted interviews, carried out the investigations, and given orders and directions to overcome these issues,” he said, referring to ongoing investigations into assassinations of members of the left-leaning Marcha Patriotica political party. The party reports that 113 of its members have been assassinated since 2012.

Tamayo said he could not comment on the JFC briefing as the numbers were “not official.” However, he said the Ombudsman’s Office is working closely with other state agencies to verify all reported assassinations and ensure the necessary preventative and judicial steps are taken.


Video: Indigenous Rights and Neo-Paramilitary Control. In this short documentary; Four different Indigenous communities tell their tales of violence, displacement, return and resistance, while shinning a light on the human rights atrocities that continue in Colombia.

A version of this article originally appeared in the July 15, 2016, issue of Mongabay under the title “Heavy toll for green and indigenous activists among Colombian killings” published by Rebecca Kessler.

Indigenous Activists Confront Unicity Taxi Supervisors

Urban Warrior Alliance members enter the Unicity Taxi offices on Hargrave Street. Calvin Clarke (right) says supervisors addressed their concerns, but workers in the office were yelling racist comments at them. (Courtesy Red Power Media)

Urban Warrior Alliance members enter the Unicity Taxi offices on Hargrave Street. Calvin Clarke (right) says supervisors addressed their concerns, but workers in the office were yelling racist comments at them. (Courtesy Red Power Media)

Cab companies taking complaints from indigenous community seriously, said Unicity Taxi’s general manager

Some indigenous activists in Winnipeg say the time for peaceful protest is over when it comes to standing up to the city’s taxicab companies.

On Friday, four members of the Urban Warrior Alliance entered the Unicity Taxi office on Hargrave Street in camouflage pants, jackets, bandanas and masks.

“When we showed up that way, I think we threw a scare into them, which is why we wear our masks and our camo sometimes,” said Calvin Clarke, a member of Urban Warrior Alliance. The small community activist group participates in blockades, vigils and marches for missing and murdered indigenous women.

“We need to do that to shake everything up, let people know, you know, ‘wow, these people don’t mess around,'” said Clarke.

Police were called to the scene but no arrests were made.

Urban Warrior Alliance members speak to Winnipeg Police Service officers after entering Unicity Taxi offices in protest. (Courtesy Red Power Media)

Urban Warrior Alliance members speak to Winnipeg Police Service officers after entering Unicity Taxi offices in protest. (Courtesy Red Power Media)

“To be honest, they did nothing violent,” said Unicity’s general manager, Sunny Dhir. “They just came here to talk, but I explained to them, there’s a proper way we can talk because there is a girl working here, too, maybe they’re scared.”

Dhir told them that complaints involving criminal offences should be taken up with the Taxicab Board and the Winnipeg Police Service.

Winnipeg woman files complaint, says cabbie asked her for sex.

In the meantime, the driver in question is still working. Dhir said he would only be suspended if warranted by the police investigation.

Company says complaints against drivers are few

Despite mounting concerns from the indigenous community, including a call to action from the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, Dhir said complaints against drivers are few.

“Maybe there are a few girls that are not complaining yet, but on the other hand…there’s a complaint [from] the drivers, too — drivers getting robbed, not getting paid — we have to consider both the things equally.”

Clarke said the treatment of indigenous people by cab drivers goes far beyond a few complaints, and was evident by the response from some Unicity Taxi workers on Friday night.

They were getting very upset and swearing at us — some of the workers in there were really belligerent,” said Clarke.

Clarke and other members of Urban Warrior Alliance are planning another protest at the next meeting of the Manitoba Taxicab Board.

CBC News, Posted: Mar 01, 2016




Seizing Wells And Going On Strike, Peruvian Protesters Stand Up To Big Oil

peru_0 (1)

by Common Dreams, Published on Sept, 02, 2015

The Indigenous activists want clean water, compensation for oil pollution, and more pay for the use of native land

Demanding reparations for industrial pollution and adequate compensation for use of native lands, Indigenous activists in Peru shut down 11 wells in an Amazonian oil block on Tuesday.

According to the Spanish EFE news agency, native protesters led by the Federation of the Achuar and Urarina Indigenous Peoples of the Corrientes River (FECONACO) occupied 11 oil installations and seized control of the Trompeteros airport and three storage tanks in Lot 8, which is operated by Argentine energy firm Pluspetrol.

The protesters want clean water, compensation for oil pollution, and more pay for the use of native land, said Carlos Sandi, FECONACO chief.

Reporting in February for Fusion, journalist Manuel Rueda wrote:

Over the past 15 years, dozens of villages located near oil wells in the Northwest of Peru have had to deal with similar oil spills that have poisoned rivers with dangerous levels of cadmium, lead and other toxic materials.

Pollution along the Marañon, Tigre, Corrientes and Pastaza rivers has reached such levels of toxicity that Peru’s Environment Ministry has declared all of them environmental emergency zones over the past two years.

“Many of our brothers have already died from poisoning,” Carlos Sandi, a leader of the Achuar tribe said during a recent visit to the capital city to meet with government officials. “In the 21st century, we cannot allow the Peruvian state to condemn indigenous people to death.”

Lot 8 is located in Peru’s northern region of Loreto, near Lot 192—the nation’s largest oil block.

Sandi told Reuters that the Achuar in and around Lot 192 would soon seize wells there following a dispute with the government over a failure to provide sufficient proceeds for communities in a new contract awarded to Canada’s Pacific Exploration and Production Corporation.

Furthermore, an assembly of social organizations in Loreto voted last week to carry out another 48-hour strike starting Friday to protest the government’s move to privatizate Lot 192 for two years instead of allocating it to the country’s state-owned company.

According to TeleSUR, Indigenous activists are calling for the creation of a fund to compensate for 40 years of exploitation of this oil block and an increase on the 0.75 percent of profits currently offered by the government to tribal members.

As Miguel Lévano Muñoz, Oxfam’s Peru-based program officer for extractive industries,explained last month: “For more than 40 years, Indigenous peoples in this region of northern Peru have lived on territories where petroleum is being extracted—resulting in serious environmental, health, social, economic, and cultural consequences. The Kichwas, Quechuas, Achuar and Urarinas, whose community territories overlap with the boundaries of Block 192 have already decided to allow oil exploitation on their land, but what they’re calling for now is the right to benefit from what is being taken.”

For more on how Peru’s Indigenous people are fighting Big Oil, watch this six-minute documentary from filmmaker Gregory Kershaw:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


RCMP Planning Mass Arrest Of Indigenous Activists Under Bill C-51, Supporters Warn

ThinkPol is reporting the RCMP are preparing to carry out Bill C51 arrests at Unist’ot’en camp:

The RCMP are preparing to carry out a mass arrest operation against the indigenous Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northwestern BC under Harper government’s Bill C-51 labelling as terrorists First Nations activists exercising their Aboriginal Title and Rights to protect their lands from oil and gas development, according to a joint statement by the groups supporters.

The Conservatives’ controversial anti-terror act criminalizes protests that may be seen as interfering with ‘the economic or financial stability of Canada’ and opponents of the bill had long feared that it would be used to stifle opposition to oil pipelines aggressively promoted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The RCMP have made a number of visits to the Unist’ot’en as well as other First Nations leadership regarding the Unist’ot’en camp, located on the shores of the Wedzin Kwah and mouth of the Gosnell Creek, tributaries to the Skeena, Bulkley, and Babine Rivers.

The activists have been protesting against the proposed Enbridge Pipeline and Pacific Trails Pipeline (Chevron), which are planned to cross the river at the exact points of our Pithouse, and Permaculture Garden that was built on the Unist´ot´en Territory of Talbits Kwah.

Today over fifty individuals and organizations have issued a letter to the provincial government, federal government and RCMP to express support for the Unist’ot’en Camp.

“The courageous stand taken by the Unist’ot’en and their supporters must not be criminalized by the RCMP nor targeted by government,” states Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “Through the draconian Bill C51, the federal government is attempting to brand people defending the land and water as ‘security threats.’ The Unist’ot’en are heroes, while the real threat is this government destroying the planet and economy.”

Signatories to this letter include the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, BC Assembly of First Nations, Greenpeace Canada, Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 718, Idle No More, Council of Canadians, Earthkeepers: Christians for Climate Justice, Defenders of the Land, David Suzuki, Unifor’s Western Director Joie Warnock, Elizabeth May, Naomi Klein.

“Why is the Senior Command of the RCMP so hell bent on deliberately provoking a conflict between themselves and the Indigenous Peoples of British Columbia?” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs asked. “Are they taking these instructions from Premier Christy Clark or Prime Minister Harper?”

Since 2009, the Unist’ot’en have maintained a camp by Wedzin Kwah (Morice River) that is blocking seven pipelines that do not have Unist’ot’en consent to use their land.

On August 15th, 2015, in accordance with Wet’suwet’en laws, the Unist’ot’en Declaration was unanimously signed by five Unist’ot’en chiefs and affirms the continuous governance of the Unist’ot’en.

The letter notes, “We denounce any attempt by the federal government, provincial government or RCMP to interfere in the rights of the Unist’ot’en to occupy, manage or maintain their lands…We expect any and all actions taken by the federal and provincial government, industry and policing agencies to be consistent with the Unist’ot’en Declaration and the jurisdiction of the Unist’ot’en Clan.


Indigenous Activists Blockade Border For Inquiry Into Missing, Murdered Women

Blockade at Ontario and Manitoba border. Photo: Red Power Media

Vehicles were backed up for miles as activists blockaded the Ontario and Manitoba border. Photo: Red Power Media

By Red Power Media, Staff

Indigenous activists from Winnipeg had warned media that they planned to protest at the border with a blockade when the latest RCMP report was released.

Indigenous women continue to be most frequently killed by men they know, the RCMP said Friday as it released updated findings on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Another 32 Indigenous women have been murdered and 11 more have disappeared since the RCMP last reported on the issue.

Video: Group Blocks Motorists Who Refuse MMIW Flyer

In response activists set up a blockade and put a chokehold on the Trans-Canada Highway at the Ontario and Manitoba border. Then handed out 1,181 informational flyers ― the number of Indigenous women missing or murdered between 1980 and 2012 according to last year’s RCMP report.

They also informed the public of the violence taking place in their communities and the need for a national inquiry.

The Urban Warrior Alliance Blocks Semi Trucks at the Ontario and Manitoba border for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Red Power Media

An activist from the Urban Warrior Alliance blocks a semi truck at the Ontario and Manitoba border. Photo: Red Power Media.

“First Nations do not appreciate the way the RCMP is handling this. Not at all. We have no respect for it at all,” said one organizer.

“We want a national inquiry. We want an inquiry into what’s happening in our communities, what’s happening not just with our women, but all of our community.”

Many have long been calling for an inquiry.

However, the Harper government has refused saying it would rather focus on preventing these cases in the first place.


The protest was predominantly peaceful, minus some racist comments fueling the passion of the protesters.

Each time a driver didn’t accept a flyer, the group rallied in front of the vehicle, then shut down both lanes of the highway for 10 to 15 minutes not allowing anyone through until the flyer was taken.

Both the OPP and RCMP were at the border to manage the slow stream of vehicles.

The OPP reported that the protesters stayed on the highway until they had handed out all of their flyers.

Members from the Urban Warrior Alliance in Winnipeg who organized the protest ended it at about 4 pm.

Report: Killings Of Indigenous Leaders And Environmental Activists Rises

Reuters/Nacho Doce

Reuters/Nacho Doce

By Black Powder | Red Power Media

A report entitled, “How Many More?” released by Global Witness, shows a 20 percent rise in the number of killings of Indigenous leaders and environmental activists last year.

The report states that 116 activists were killed in 2014.

Some 40 percent of victims are indigenous peoples, protesting against hydropower, mining, logging, water and land grabs.

Each week at least two people are being killed for taking a stand against environmental destruction. Some are shot by police during protests, others gunned down by hired assassins. As companies go in search of new land to exploit, increasingly people are paying the ultimate price for standing in their way.

The report noted that in 2014 alone, 116 cases of killings in 17 countries were recorded in Central and South America and Southeast Asia, with Brazil as the worst-hit with 29 people killed, followed by Colombia with 25, the Philippines with 15 and Honduras with 12.


At least 935 people were killed in 35 countries from 2002 to 2014, compared with 908 from last year’s figure (2002 to 2013), stated the study released Monday (April 20) in Washington DC at the announcement of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winners.

The prize is the world’s largest award for grassroots environmentalists who protect the natural environment.

Honduras suffered 111 killings between 2002 and 2014. The case of indigenous activist Berta Caceres, this year’s winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, is emblematic of the systematic targeting of defenders in Honduras.

“They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me, they threaten my family. That is what we face,” said Caceres. Since 2013, Caceres said three of her colleagues have been killed for resisting the Agua Zarca hydro-dam on the Gualcarque River, which threatens to cut off a vital water source for hundreds of indigenous Lenca people.

Protest in the Philippines

Protest in the Philippines

The Philippines leads countries in Asia with the highest number of people killed.

The report finds that 82 people were killed from 2002-2014, in the Philippines alone.

For Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the report is of a serious concern as many of the remaining forests and biodiversity hotspots are in indigenous peoples’ ancestral territories.

“One factor why this is so is because indigenous peoples protect and defend their territories from environmental destruction caused by corporate and state programs which pose high social and environmental risks,” Tauli-Corpuz told the InterAksyon.com.

“The use of paramilitary groups by corporations and the government to quell resistance against destructive projects should be stopped and the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act in relation to the need to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples should be effectively implemented.”

Tauli-Corpuz, who is also the executive director of the Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, further said the government of the Philippines is a signatory to almost all international human rights conventions and adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, yet extrajudicial killings of indigenous leaders and activists persist.

“I urge the government to address these human rights violations and uphold its obligations to International Human Rights Law. Its reputation of being one of the most dangerous places for environmentalists and also for indigenous activists is a source of shame not only for the country but for its citizens. The State should seriously address many of the unsolved killings and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

On December 22, 2014, police at the Letpadaung copper mine in Myanmar (Burma) shot and killed a woman who had joined other protesters attempting to prevent the mine’s operator from fencing off land for the project.

More and more people are being killed protecting rights to land and the environment. 47 Indigenous peoples were killed in 2014. The actual number may be even higher as a victim’s indigenous identity is likely to be underreported and cases related to indigenous people often occur in remote areas.