If you’ve been following the news the past couple of days, and travel in or keenly observe social justice circles, it’s likely you’ve seen the Toronto Star’s story about federal government tracking of protest movements. The headline of the Toronto Star’s provocatively titled story Ottawa admits to tracking hundreds of protests suggests the possibility the government was previously lying or hiding the truth- or, perhaps, staff writer Alex Boutilier beat it out of Stephen Harper with a tightly rolled Saturday edition?
The photograph selected for this article is brilliant as the clickbait in the headline. At first glance, the crowd’s energy gives no reason to assume they’re worthy of being tracked; only a wildly oppressive government would follow the movements of the churchgoers, soccer moms and Nascar dads who showed-up (on the surface that is). Next there’s the thinly veiled implication that the government is spying on it’s own constituency- the pro-choice movement is more closely aligned with the Conservatives than the NDP or Liberals (and the movement had a history of violence by a minority of extremists).
But all that’s just nitpicking, and there’s no evidence of intent, right? Of course, one can’t judge a story on headline and photograph alone- the real test is understanding the meat of the content. The meat in this story, the author’s follow-up, and a spin-off story from CBC Hamilton is so rotten it leaves the reader longing for a quality meal at a Shanghai KFC.
The Toronto Star Breaks The Biggest Non-Story Of The Year:
Alex Boutilier’s first article, published in the Toronto Star on September 18th, was based on the release of a document from Public Safety Canada’s Government Operations Centre (GOC). If there’s one positive thing to say about Boutilier’s story, it’s that he showed more integrity than the Vancouver Observer’s misleading government “spying” story and published all 38 pages for his readers to explore.
Boutilier doesn’t explain how he obtained the document, only that it was “recently released”. It’s contents include “about 800” events listed between January 16, 2006 and June 8, 2014. The reader’s first reaction is that the number 800 sounds like a lot of events- but, had Boutilier been more diligent in his reporting (will give benefit of doubt this isn’t an intentional exclusion) he would have taken the effort to do the math and break the numbers down into months and/or years.
- Total Duration: 8 years, 4 months, 23 days
- # protests p/year: Slightly less than 100
- # protests p/month: Less than 10
Yes, folks, the Toronto Star’s world-class reporting expressed outrage that the government is keeping records on a whopping 10 protests per month! Boutilier explains in his story how some tracked protests are overseas but the majority are in Canada. Had he been more diligent and/or honest, he would have given us the number: 149 (18.6% of the list). Removing overseas protests from the tally, the list tracked an average of 6.51 Canadian protests per month. To put this in perspective, there are more protests held across the country on the average Saturday afternoon (and, on average, more protests are covered on this site each month).
But, outside of the numbers, the real test of the Star’s story is to examine whose events were on the government’s list- are they tracking genuinely peaceful people and events, or are there valid concerns? Let’s first look at Boutilier’s examples:
1.) Colonialism in Québec: Myths, Misgivings, and Nationalism
This was a panel discussion held hardcore radical revolutionaries at Concordia university. The event was hosted by the Concordia Co-Op Bookstore, a student fee funded group started by the Concordia University Student Union. The store has a large selection of anarchist and revolutionary books with activist manuals including “Class Warfare“, “How Nonviolence Protects The State“, and “Expect Resistance, A Field Manual“.
There were three speakers on the panel:
– Darryl Leroux is a professor at St Mary’s University in Halifax. Leroux is an incredibly interesting character with deep relations in Canada’s revolutionary anarchist community. He was also the subject of a follow-up article written by Boutilier, we’ll cover more about him in the next section where we’ll show how Leroux’s “surprise” that the government was monitoring this event is very amusing.
– Délice Mugabo is a revolutionary feminist who is on the board of the radical Fédération des femmes de Québec (FFQ). Mugabo has relationships with No One Is Illegal, an anarchist group well discuss more later in this article.
– David Austin is yet another revolutionary. He’s written books including “You Don’t Play With Revolution”, and a book about black radicalism in Quebec titled “Fear of a Black Nation”. Like the other two speakers, Austin has relationships with No One Is Illegal.
There was also a very interesting guest participating at the event:
Jaggi Singh is the leader of anarchist group No One Is Illegal Montreal; as explained to me by a law enforcement specialist in left radicalism, Jaggi is “a major person of interest”. Singh was arrested for his leadership during the riots at the Quebec City Summit of the Americas, and was arrested and convicted for urging the crowd to tear down the fence during the G20 (he was unrepentant too).
Boutilier’s article explains that this meeting was reported to the GOC by the RCMP, but it appears he put zero effort into understanding why- of course not, it would kill the story’s narrative. The truth is that all of the speakers had close relationships to No One Is Illegal- an organization whose connections to militancy and activist violence almost single-handedly justify the government’s protest list.
And, while Boutilier and Darryl Leroux (more on him in a moment) may have expressed being surprised the meeting was on the government’s list, not everyone was. In fact, the Concordia Co-Op Bookstore thought the fact the RCMP was monitoring the meeting was a sign that he was “doing something right”. That statement alone makes it very clear- this wasn’t some “innocent” meeting wrongly monitored by the RCMP, there was good reason for it.
2.) Ottawa Union May Day Protest Against Government Cutbacks
To be fair to Alex Boutilier, this event isn’t described well on the list, only says demonstrations by PSAC & CUPE unions, but had he spent a few minutes doing his research he’d have realized that this was part Ottawa’s May Day celebrations. The unions held a rally that day to protest government “cutbacks”.
Of all the protests on the list of 800, there’s probably not one that’s more justified to be on the list- it’s simple really, the protest was about the government. Had the protest not been tracked it would indicate that either the organizers were so inept that the government didn’t know it was happening, or that the government wasn’t paying attention.
3.) Protest Against Colossus Minerals In Brazil
This entry is for a protest against Colossus Minerals’ operations in Brazil, the company was in a conflict with it’s local joint venture at the time. It was filed by Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development Canada, an organization whose job it is to work with and support Canadian companies working abroad.
4.) Montreal Protest For Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women
The September 2013 Montreal protest for missing and murdered indigenous women was funded by the Centre for Gender Advocacy– yet another radical organization funded by student fees at Concordia University. The CGA is a prominent member of Montreal’s militant activist community. One of their recent projects was a mural on the side of the anarchist bookstore L’insoumise (I’ve been there, they have posters used to promote the riots at the Toronto G20 proudly displayed in their window). Speaking of the G20, Jaggi Singh’s CLAC promoted the CGA’s peer counselling for people who were arrested there. Once again, we have a perfect example of how embarrassingly incomplete Alex Boutilier’s story was.
5.) How Tar Sands Threaten Our Communities
This event occurred on August 25th, and featured Ben Powess- a professional activist who works closely with the militant community (and yet another person arrested during the G20). Powess is employed by Ecology Ottawa, an organization featured on this site in June for promoting violent militants- including Harsha Walia, the country’s most prominent promoter of Black Bloc tactics. Examining the Facebook event page, many people attending came from Toronto’s militant anarchist community .
6.) Workshop on “Non-Violent” Protest Methods in Montreal
After spending some time researching, no further information has been found about this workshop. It may be perfectly innocent, but might not be. It’s important to note that the phrase “non-violent” is often used as a cover for other activities, and that militants don’t view window smashing as being violent.
7.) New Brunswick Lobster Fishery Protests
The lobster fishing business can get quite tense. The same native “warrior societies” we saw leading the anti-fracking protests where Molotov cocktails were thrown have been battling non-native lobster fishermen they have disputes with. There’s no surprise the government was tracking the protests as they had the potential to get serious- also, it’s the government’s job to manage allocations, it would have been incompetent had they not been watching what was going on. And as a fisheries issue, the protest was about government regulation, so no surprise they were monitoring.
Follow-Up: Nutty Professor (With Strange Bedfellows) Acts Surprised:
Follow-up stories can be valuable tools to help solidify one’s nnarrative- but, of course, when the story is so poorly researched, a follow-up can also add insult to injury. In this case, Alex Boutilier has definitely taken a step towards the latter situation- he couldn’t have only chosen a worse example for his follow-up had he featured a convicted G20 criminal.
Instead, he chose the next best thing. St Marys University professor Darryl Leroux is at the heart of the militant community and has relationships with many of the people and organizations who’ve been promoting violent tactics. When Leroux expressed surprise that the RCMP was tracking his Montreal panel (that he shared with allies of No One Is Illegal) he made no mention how he interacted with a convicted G20 criminal there. And it’s not that he wasn’t aware of Jaggi Singh’s presence- we have evidence they communicated.
And it’s not like Leroux isn’t aware of Jaggi Singh’s position on Violence. While writing about his experience observing the riots at the Quebec City Summit of the Americas, Leroux documented how Singh’s group CLAC espoused the principles of “respect for a diversity of tactics” (meaning, it’s okay to use violence). And, curiously, the good professor made no effort to criticise this position (his use of the word ‘respect’ is highly disturbing).
Leroux is a contributor to the Media Co-Op, a publication that labelled people like Singh as “political prisoners” for their crimes. It’s a strange choice for a university professor to publish his stories in a publication known for its outright lies– one would think he’d work harder to protect his ‘credibility’. It’s also a publication that glorifies violence.
To be fair – as Leroux pointed out when asked for comment on this story – his articles in the Media Co-Op were published after the event in question. But that still doesn’t change the fact that the meeting Leroux is criticising the government for tracking was attended by a convicted G20 criminal- hypocrisy at best.
One last thought on Boutilier’s follow-up story. He craftily mentions how the government tracked a number of ‘peace churches’. Perhaps he’s not aware of this, but some members of these churches have histories of working with violent G20 criminals. Take this video for example, where a prominent Toronto Quaker explains that she’s comfortable working with G20 convict Alex Hundert because the violence of the state justifies his violence:
CBC Hamilton’s Adam Carter Takes It One Step Further:
We’ve covered CBC Hamilton’s Adam Carter on this site in the past; both for his misleading/incompetent coverage of the occupation of Enbridge’s Westover, Ontario Line 9 pumping stations, and the dodgy anti-police scare story he wrote shortly before they occupiers got arrested. There’s been a concern that Carter is working more on behalf of the protesters than of the people- today’s story only opens more questions.
Like Alex Boutilier’s first story, Carter begins outligning protests that were documented in the government’s list. And considering how he’s reported on some of these stories; it is, at best, an embarrassment how little of the truth he shared with his readers:
June 2013 Enbridge Pumping Station Occupation (Swamp Line 9)
We’ve covered Swamp Line 9 in-depth on this site, Carter has covered it too. There’s something very important about this protest he neglected to tell his readers- the guy heading protest “security” was convicted (and violent) G20 ringleader Alex Hundert. Put simply, if the government wasn’t monitoring an event where Hundert took over a pipeline pumping station it would be an example of gross incompetence.
October 2007 Protest At The Six Nations
October 2007 was the height of the Grand River Dispute, a protest that terrorized the people of Caledonia, Ontario and resulted in an assault on a local resident that caused permanent brain damage. The protest was about a dispute the Six Nations claim with the federal government. So, considering the violence, and the direct relation to the federal government, it would be incompetent had they not been tracking this event.
But the height of Carter’s incompetence/misleading comes from how he ended his story- quoting activist Ken Stone claiming it’s ‘reprehensible’ the government was monitoring a pipeline occupation featuring a convicted violent criminal. Carter mentions in his story that Stone was once approached by CSIS, but neglected to mention the circumstances around that visit.
As previously covered on this site, Stone had recently returned from Iran, where he was hosted by the country’s government. Our two countries were in the midst of a diplomatic dispute at the time- so, regardless on one’s position on the conflict, it should be totally expected that the government took note of his visit.
When asked for comment on why he didn’t cover this “little” detail in his story, Carter responded by saying that it was covered in previous CBC stories, so wasn’t necessary to mention in this one. This, of course, is the height of idiocy (or misleading), it is unreasonable to expect everyone who read this story was familiar with the others.
It’s a very serious issue when a government is spying on it’s citizens, one that shouldn’t be ignored. But it’s equally as important not to make a mockery out of the issue by twisting and manipulating real cases where the government is doing their job properly. Crying wolf in cases like this has the result of weakening the argument about real cases where the government has stepped too far.
It is, of course, not possible to judge if Boutilier and Carter were manipulating the truth. In the best case scenario, they’ve only displayed outrageous incompetence. In either case, the results are the same- both these men’s stories are so misleadingly far from reality that they make a mockery out of the profession of journalism. And, more importantly, their misleading reports are a danger to all Canadians- making it more difficult for the government to do their job protecting us from people whose goal is to engage in and promote violence.
Knowing the Toronto Star’s history of publishing stories that make heroes out of those who’ve engaged in activist violence, it’s unlikely we’d get any results filing a complaint. But there appears to be a genuine opportunity to pursue remedy through the CBC’s ombudsman- where this site will be filing a formal complaint over the next few days.