Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protesters will be watched

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Members of the Idle No More and anti-pipeline movements object to being secretly watched by RCMP, CSIS and other government departments, saying it's a violation of their privacy rights.

In the case of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the groups wrongly claim the national spy agency has no business monitoring the activities of ordinary civilians and peaceful protesters.

In fact, CSIS has a lawful duty to monitor any individual, Canadian or not, who poses a potential threat to the peace and security of the state.

And there's the rub.

The aboriginal and environment movements -- the two are often the same -- claim they have merely exercised their democratic rights. That's largely, but not entirely, true.

The Idle No More movement, which sprung up almost spontaneously two years ago, has blocked rail lines and civic streets and roads. RCMP and municipal police forces responded with restraint, allowing each protest to play itself out. In the case of a blockade on a CN Rail line in Manitoba, RCMP were armed with a court order to remove the demonstrators, but they didn't act, and the protest ended peacefully without any arrests.

The problem for groups such as CSIS, however, is the aboriginal protest movement is loosely organized, largely leaderless and supported by individuals with a wide range of possible motivations.

The first job of an intelligence agency is to understand the potential threat and even if it is a threat. That can't be done without active surveillance, including meeting with members of the group, which CSIS has tried to do.

There have been several incidents of aboriginal violence in Canada, including the Oka crisis that required the deployment of the army to settle, and some native leaders have warned there could be more violence if conditions did not improve. Aboriginal groups have the power and ability today to cause considerable economic disruption, a fact that cannot be ignored.

Documents obtained under Access to Information legislation said CSIS was recommending a whole-of-government approach to dealing with aboriginal protests. The documents were redacted, but CSIS was basically saying every department of government needed to be involved if events spiralled out of control.

Canada's former spymasters had a weak record for understanding the threat environment, as evidenced by their ridiculous focus on people such as Tommy Douglas and Winnipeg's Nick Ternette.

CSIS, however, would not be doing its job if it didn't make an effort to understand the aboriginal and environmental movements.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2014 A6

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