VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Civil rights groups are worried a federal watchdog’s ruling on the activities of Canada’s spy agency CSIS could have a chilling effect on environmental activism across the country.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee found CSIS collected some information about peaceful anti-petroleum groups, but says it was done in the process of investigating legitimate threats to projects like pipelines. The B.C. Civil Rights Association brought a complaint in 2014 arguing that CSIS had been improperly collecting information on environmental groups that were legally opposing the Northern Gateway Pipeline or showing up to hearings at the National Energy Board. Now the group is challenging the ruling in court.
Human rights lawyer Paul Champ with the group says the ruling is a stamp of approval for CSIS to spy on environmental groups in the future.
“With environmental issues becoming more of a concern, people are going to take different positions, and they should be able to do that without concerns that they are suddenly going to be subjected to monitoring,” he says.
The committee that made the decision said that since the groups weren’t formal targets of CSIS, it wasn’t improper monitoring.
“But our view is that if you’re collecting information on groups or keeping tabs on them, that’s still surveilling or monitoring those groups, and unfortunately, it can have a chilling effect on people who want to get involved in those issues,” Champ says.
He said he is concerned about this type of surveillance to continue.
“I think many people would be concerned to learn their information is being collected even incidentally and kept in CSIS data banks because they went to a protest or they signed a petition or they joined a group that are supportive of environmental issues,” he says.
The group is now in federal court arguing that the committee made an error by misinterpreting the law, and send the message to CSIS that this kind of activity is improper.