Last week the Vancouver Observer published a scare story criticising the Harper government’s extensive spying on anti-oilsands groups. The writer explained that the “federal government” (wait, I thought it was Harper?) has been “vigorously spying” on anti oil sands activists and organizations across the country. Adding some fuel to the fire, they also hinted at a financial scandal claiming that the government is “subsidizing the energy industry in underwriting their costs”.
Like most claims of government spying, the story quickly went viral and was widely shared through social media. As public interest began to ignite the Observer published a follow-up story– this time quoting politicians including Green Party leader Elizabeth May, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen. The article claimed that “politicians, environmentalists and First Nations alike are infuriated”.
While there’s a genuine reason to be infuriated over this story one would be misguided (in this case) to direct their anger towards the government. Because like their editor Linda Solomon, (intentionally or not) the Observer’s coverage of this story has been deceptive. The reality of this story appears to be more sinister than the Observer implies- only, it’s the politicians, journalists, and activists we need to be concerned about- they’re enabling a monster.
The Observer’s First Article
The first article is based on a freedom of information request the Observer made for emails related to security at National Energy Board (NEB) meetings. The story claims that they were provided 140 pages of emails from between December 2012 through April 2013. The emails contain communications between the NEB, RCMP, and other people involved in security planning.
Reading the Observer’s story, the first thing one notices is that they only provide the reader with five of the 140 pages they claim to have received. The Observer is an online publication, there’s really no excuse for them not to have published the full document- do they have something to hide? Your Humble Narrator has found a copy of 122 of those pages, and it looks like the Observer cherry picked the “good” parts and left out information that would work against their case.
The first page shared in the article is titled (by the Observer) Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Security Plan – Organizations Targeted. Like each of the pages in the article, the Observer provides a small screenshot that links to the entire page:
The writer uses this as evidence that the NEB “coordinated the gathering of intelligence on opponents to the oil sands” who are “independent advocacy organizations that oppose the Harper government’s policies”. In the context of this single page, the Observer’s story appears to have merit- why is the NEB placing innocent groups like Leadnow and the Dogwood Initiative on watch lists? What is this, the Soviet Union?
The reality is much more mundane- have a look at the Table of Contents:
The two screenshots above come from the security appendix for an NEB hearing in Kelowna, BC on January 28th. They teach how to create security plans in Event Planning 101- any time there are potential risks, the organizer has the responsibility to write one. The state of existence of this plan would only be newsworthy if the NEB had failed to write it.
The next screenshot explains the sources the NEB used for their “spying”:
Open source intelligence is security speak for information that’s freely available on the Internet; the events listed in the document were advertised on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media. It was incredibly manipulative of the Observer to call this spying; by these standards, we’re all spies- including the Observer themselves.
The next screenshot comes from a letter written by NEB security leader Richard Garber, a requestion for the RCMP to provide a uniformed officer during the two days of the hearing:
Once again, there’s nothing unusual about this. NEB hearings are contemptuous events, there are many (highty emotional) people who have announced the intenton to ‘shut-down’ NEB hearings (this just happened in Toronto, we’ll get to that in a moment). The RCMP regularly fulfil similar requests, and not only for the government- they’ll do this for churches, NGO’s, schools, and private businesses.
Regardless, once it was determined it was unlikely there would be a disruption, the NEB called off their request to have a uniformed officer present:
Now let’s have a look at the next screenshot from an email written by RCMP officer Timothy O’Neil:
His letter is a standard risk assessment for the Kelowna hearing. Once again, this is an ordinary procedure- the officer is simply trying to convey the fact there’s a genuine risk that people may try to cause a disruption (this happened in Toronto last month, but we’ll get to that in a moment).
He states this more clearly further down on the page:
The Observer’s interpretation of this letter was truly over-the-top, saying: “ordered the escalation of RCMP and CSIS intelligence measures following the opening of an SPROS/SIR database file”. Once again, a reality check- it’s standard procedure to enter potentially risky events into the Suspicious Incident Reporting system. This way, if the worst happens, officers attending the call are likely to be more prepared.
The story’s final screenshot discusses a classified security briefing hosted by Natural Resources Canada:
The writer presents this as evidence of their claim that the government is “subsidizing the energy industry”, and colluding in private meetings with people in the oil industry. Once again, the Observer’s analysis is embarrassingly weak- there’s a reason security meetings are kept closed, if they were open they’d be completely ineffective.
The Follow-Up Article:
The follow-up article takes things one step further- this time, the Observer interviewed politicians who must also think their readers are stupid. They kicked-off the article with a quote from Green Party leader Elizabeth May:
“It’s the death of democracy if you’ve got non-violent, law-abiding First Nations, environmentalists and Canadian groups of all kinds being subjected to surveillance then handed over to industry groups. Frankly, it’s scary”
Of course, her statement needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Elizabeth May has a very different interpretation of what is and isn’t violent- here’s how she explained her position after mayhem during the Toronto G20 in 2010:
“I don’t like using violence in the context of smashing windows. That’s vandalism.”
Curiously, whenever there’s been an incident of activist violence since 2010 (or reports of police monitoring for violent activists, Elizabeth May has put herself at the centre of the controversy- claiming that the Canadian government is “scary” or some other carefully crafter words to that effect. Officially, May speaks out against activist violence- but equally, she puts a lot of effort taking actions that make it more difficult for the police to do their job.
Your Humble Narrator is beginning to wonder if May’s intentions are honourable- when I questioned her last month about her statements about breaking windows not being violent, her answer was much less than satisfactory (she claimed ignorance as her defence).
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen lost a lot of his credibility too, calling the NEB’s security precautions :
“very un-Canadian to run the country like Joe McCarthy looking for enemies of the state just because they disagree with you”
Liberal MP Joyce Murray was a bit less alarming with her language, but she did manage to help add some FUD to the mix saying:
“It’s supposed to be a neutral agency. In fact it is controlled by the government, so the question in my mind is, was it the government that instructed the NEB to do this?”
Murray should be happy she tempered her words, as we’ll see in a moment- she’s directly connected to someone who was involved with the interruption of an NEB hearing in Toronto.
What The Observer Didn’t Tell Us
Both of the Observer’s articles neglected to publish the full contents of the information they received through their freedom of information request. The Observer is an online newspaper- there’s absolutely no excuse for them not to share the whole document. So, why didn’t they?
It seems that the answer to this is that, if they released the full document, their story would have had a lot less of an impact. For example, many of the 140 pages are filled with duplicate information- some of the emails include copies of previous replies, and a few of the pages are just cut-and-paste copies of stories from the mainstream media.
There’s evidence of the Observer cherry picking information. For example, when they gave examples of the organizations the NEB was ‘spying’ on, they only published the most ‘innocent’ examples- groups like Leadnow and the Dogwood Initiative. (That said, Leadnow’s head xxx was forced to make a public apology last year after calling for the undemocratic overthrow of the government, and Dogwood has direct connections to militant activists).
One of the emails included in the document discussed a protest of an NEB hearing on Vancouver on January 14th- attended by some of the most militant and violence promoting organizations in the country:
No One Is Illegal:
NoII is an anarchist organization that is, by far, Canada’s number one promoter of political violence. This was documented in 2010, when NoII Vancouver leader Harsha Walia passionately defended the people who smashed up downtown Vancouver during the Olympics.
The Council of Canadians:
Wherever one finds violent anarchists, the CoC’s are never far behind. The CoC was, admittedly, directly connected to the violence during the Olympics- it was through their facilitation that non-violent protesters agreed to include the anarchists in their protest.
Food Not Bombs:
FnB is an anarchist group best known for serving food at protests. But there’s a dark side to them also- during Occupy Vancouver they were responsible for leading a wildcat blockade of the Port of Vancouver.
Unist’ot’en is an anarchist led ‘action camp’ based on indigenous land in northern BC. If you’re looking for militant anarchists, this is the place to find them.
Stop The Pave:
StP is led by anarchist Eric Dougherty, a close associate of Harsha Walia who idolizes the (violent) Mexican Zapatista movement.
Readers will find the next screenshot interesting, as it includes a link from this site :
The person writing this email was referencing to a disturbing video by Alexander Knight of Poor Man’s Media. The video featured Zach Ruiter, a militant activist with an intense hatred for the police. Ruiter makes some concerning remarks in the video that could be interpreted as his intention to cause physical damage to the Line 9 pipeline- he was accompanied by Toronto schoolteacher (and Kevin Annett supporter) Carrie Lester.
What Does The NEB Really Have To Be Afraid Of?
All of the Observers (and the politician’s) analysis of the documents released by the NEB are based on the hearings in Kelowna- which, admittedly, is probably one the least likely towns where their hearings will be met with violent resistance. But, as shown in the last section, the NEB faces real risks in larger cities.
Last month, the NEB held hearings in Toronto to discuss Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline reversal license. The meeting was disrupted by a group of protesters- here’s a video taken by UndercoverKity:
The crowd of protesters included some of Ontario’s most prominent militant anarchists:
Hundert is one of the ringleaders behind the violence during the Toronto G20- at Occupy Toronto he was subject for much criticism for his violence towards individuals. He was convicted for his role in the G20 and sentenced to 18 months in prison- much of his time was spent in solitary confinement after he made efforts to radicalise and provoke his fellow inmates into a conflict with prison guards. Hundert led security for the protesters who took over Enbridge’s Line 9 pumping station in Westover, ON this summer.
Sakura Saunders & Darius Mirshahi:
Saunders is an American anarchist who was also one of the key players during the Westover occupation. Saunders has made a career out of interrupting corporate hearing, an activity she engages in several times a year. She was accompanied by her husband, Darius Mirshahi- an anarchist rapper who wrote songs about “smashing s##t up” during the Toronto G20.
Patricia “Trish” Mills:
Trish Mills is an anarchist who was arrested during the Westover occupation. She got into a physical altercation with bailiffs during one of her appearances in court- more charges were added. This summer Mills wrote an article in the (militant) Media Co-Op encouraging her fellow activists to get into physical altercations with the police.
Wassaykeesic is an indigenous activist who also participated in the Westover occupation- he’s currently facing the most serious charges amongst his peers, including breaking and entering after he climbed over a fence into a secured (and dangerous) area. Wassaykeesic was detained in November after interrupting Toronto’s Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Chai Kalevar is a professional protester who’s attended every major militant anarchis protest over the past decade- the G20, School of The Americas, the Seattle WTO, the Summit of the Americas. There’s nothing to indicate that Chai is a security risk, but it is interesting to note that in April Chai was one of MP Joyce Murray’s cheerleaders during the Liberal’s Leadership Showcase in Toronto.
The NEB had to cancel the next day’s meetings due to the interruption- clearly making the case for their security plans…
The Vancouver Observer was founded based on a lie- when she arrived in Vancouver (from the Chattanooga) she announced to the world that she was a “Pulitzer nominated” journalist (she isn’t). Their stories on the NEB ‘spying’ continues this tradition- shamelessly twisting the NEB’s act of due diligence into a sinister plot against oil sands activists.
Of all the public meetings held by Canadian government agencies each year, NEB hearings are the amongst the most likely to be interrupted. Admittedly, most anti-pipeline activists are peaceful and unlikely to hurt anyone- that said (as seen in Toronto), there are many extremists in the activist community who pose a genuine security risk to hearing participants. Had the NEB not created a security plan it would have been a act of gross incompetence- had they not, and someone got hurt, heads would roll.
Intentionally or not, the Observer’s story is incredibly deceptive. It’s also dangerous, making it more difficult for police and other organizations to do their jobs and ensure that people are safe. The politicians who joined in this farce should all know better- if they actually don’t understand the NEB has the need to create a security plan, they’re unqualified to be holding their seats.
Here’s a link to the full FOI- the document the Vancouver Observer didn’t want you to see…