Martin Lukacs – Journalism

Canada becoming launch-pad of a global tar sands and oil shale frenzy

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Up at the Guardian:

Canada becoming launch-pad of a global tar sands and oil shale frenzy

A worldwide extreme energy boom, modelled after Canada’s, is unleashing weapons of mass ecological destruction

Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada
A tar sands production facility in Alberta, Canada, where extraction methods have become a template for the exploitation of extreme energy sources across the world. (Photograph: Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images)

If you can be sure of one thing, it’s that oil companies didn’t get the United Nations’ latest memo on climate change: the world must urgently switch to clean, renewable energy. Over the next few decades, the UN report showsthat a shift from fossil fuel extraction is the only way to prevent a complete destabilization of the planet – of which raging storms, droughts, and extreme weather are a taste of things to come.

But as conventional oil reserves have dwindled, oil companies have done the opposite of embracing this shift: they’ve doubled-down on their business model by seeking out remote, more polluting fossil fuels, in harder-to-extract places.

Places like Alberta’s tar sands, a source of oil so dirty that renown ex-NASA climatologist James Hansen has described it as a “carbon bomb” whose full exploitation would spell “game over” for the climate. But if that worries scientists, it hasn’t made oil companies flinch. With little fanfare, Alberta’s extraction zone has become an inspiration and launch-pad for these companies’ ambitions – a world-wide expansion not only of the tar sands but also of oil shale, an even dirtier form of crude oil.

Can you imagine squeezing oil from rock? Oil shale is different from the shale gas that is extracted through fracking. It is geologically un-evolved oil: the remnants of organic matter buried underground for millions of years but never sunk deep enough, nor long enough, to be transformed into petroleum. Lying only dozens or hundreds of metre beneath the surface, fused into shale rock, it can be extracted: but only with the most carbon and water-intensive methods ever conceived.

Mined or heated underground, shale rock is cooked at extremely high temperatures, usually with natural gas, to separate out the solid organic matter that contains the hydrocarbons. The process releases five times moreemissions than conventional oil extraction, more even than the tar sands – making oil shale the world’s dirtiest energy source. The process also wastes an enormous amount of water. In Estonia, which has been extracting oil shale longer than anyone, the industry consumes a staggering 90 percent of all the water used in the country.

Oil shale exploitation, it turns out, is hugely indebted to Alberta. It’s where one of its most common extraction methods was invented and first used for tar sands. And as prices for oil have remained high, making oil shale as well as tar sands profitable to extract, companies from around the world have flocked to Alberta to learn and hone their techniques.

Middle eastern companies want to be “close to a champion.” Estonians have tested new extraction technology. Chinese investors, who have bought huge ownership stakes in Alberta tar sands projects, don’t only want to take crude home – they want to take know-how to apply to their own oil shale.

And then there’s Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, which contain most of the world’s oil shale and huge deposits of tar sands – more than a trillion recoverable barrels, according to some estimates. To put that in perspective, Canada’s oil deposits hold about 200 billion recoverable barrels, Saudi Arabia’s 260. US government officials overseeing plans for this deposit, which has no comparison in the world, describe Alberta as their “template.”

What exactly is that template? It’s not simply about dumping enough carbon into the atmosphere to fry the planet, though that is one of its least pleasant features. It’s also about hollowing out your country’s manufacturing industry, hitching your public finances to a disastrous boom-and-bust resource cycle, poisoning downstream indigenous communities, and fostering an increasingly authoritarian government that is willing to dismantle any regulation in the way of the oil barons while treating dissent like criminal behaviour.

If you thought the Canadian government might be quietly sheepish about their new status as an international extreme energy role-model, you’d be very wrong. Its politicians have eagerly promoted their extraction technologies to their allies. Canada’s Natural Resources minister recently struck up a pact to collaborate on research, development and joint ventures with Israel, which ispegged to have 250 billion barrels of recoverable crude – another mini-Alberta. “Israel’s current state of oil shale resource development has similarities to the early days of Canada’s oil sands and we are pleased to share Canada’s experiences with respect to policy and regulation,” the minister has said.

Canadian companies have not been far behind, scouring for opportunities for tar sands and oil shale investment. They’ve trotted out the same public relations lines about “responsible stewardship”, “remediation” and “small footprint” that they’ve used endlessly in Alberta. A recently-launched website,, exhaustively tracks these projects as they’ve sprung up elsewhere: in the Mongolian desert, Congo’s rain-forests, Russia’s remote basins, Jordan and Morocco, Venezuela, Madagascar and Trinidad and Tobago.

If Alberta’s reserves are a carbon bomb, this global expansion of tar sands and oil shale exploitation amounts to an escalating emissions arms race, the unlocking of a subterranean cache of weapons of mass ecological destruction. And oil companies want to move quickly to build their extraction infrastructure, so that our societies, before many of us realize it, will be forced to rely on their polluting sources of energy.

We have other choices. A transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy ispossible and within reach, and in some countries already underway. We need, simultaneously, a disarmament movement geared to this age of climate crisis – a movement that deprives oil corporations of their legitimacy, strips of them of their investments, and blocks their industrial infrastructure. That, too, isunderway, on campuses and in regions across the globe.

The good news is also that, so far, none of the new tar sands and oil shale projects outside of Venezuela and Estonia have been commercialized on a large-scale. And in Canada and the United States, battles against the construction of pipelines that would carry tar sands have caused delays and could leave much of Alberta’s tar sands in the ground. There’s no doubt that investors and governments, not just in North America but where-ever oil shale and tar sands deposits are being eyed, will pay close attention to their outcome – they’ll send a message well beyond their borders.

Canada’s tar sands have to date served only as a model for a world-wide rush for dirty energy. Shutting down the expansion could set an example for a global liberation from it.


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April 17, 2014 at 5:15 pm

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Investigative article about AFN collaboration with RCMP

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Assembly of First Nations, RCMP co-operated on response to mass protests in 2007

The Assembly of First Nations worked closely with the Mounties and provincial police to exchange information about protests and develop common stances before a national aboriginal day of action in the summer of 2007, according to RCMP documents.
Mohawk protest organizer Shawn Brant gives directions at a roadblock near Deseronto, Ont. during a national aboriginal day of action in 2007. Police used contacts within the AFN to help monitor activists including Brant, according to RCMP documents.


Mohawk protest organizer Shawn Brant gives directions at a roadblock near Deseronto, Ont. during a national aboriginal day of action in 2007. Police used contacts within the AFN to help monitor activists including Brant, according to RCMP documents.

By: Tim Groves and Martin Lukacs Special to the Star, Published on Fri Feb 15 2013

The Assembly of First Nations worked closely with the Mounties and provincial police to exchange information about protests and develop common stances before a national aboriginal day of action in the summer of 2007, according to RCMP documents.

The revelations are likely to provoke anger among Idle No More protesters and provide ammunition to aboriginal critics who have argued the AFN’s relationship with the federal government has become too cosy, with few gains to show for it.

The documents, acquired through access to information requests, reveal that heads of the RCMP and Ontario and Quebec police met in the summer of 2007 for the “first time in history” with then AFN national chief Phil Fontaine to “facilitate a consistent and effective approach to managing Aboriginal protests and occupations.”

The RCMP’s heightened collaboration with the AFN coincided with the start of a sweeping federal program of surveillance of aboriginal communities and individuals engaged in land rights activism that continues today.

“There is growing concern about the potential for unrest in Aboriginal communities, as a result of enhanced frustrations stemming from outstanding land claims or grievances,” reads a 2007 briefing note to the RCMP commissioner.

Before the Idle No More movement exploded, the June 29, 2007 day of action was the biggest recent national expression of First Nations protest. It included a railway and highway blockade by the Tyendinaga Mohawks near Kingston and “more than 100 events across the country, more sites than any other demonstration in Canadian history,” according to an RCMP document.

Although an assembly of chiefs had given the AFN the mandate to call for a national day of protest that would involve blockades, the Mounties and AFN decided to rebrand it as a day for “building bridges — not blockades.”

According to a document detailing a joint media relations strategy, all communications were reviewed by both the AFN and RCMP to “ensure consistency and accuracy.”

During the day of action an RCMP officer worked within the AFN’s Ottawa headquarters to ensure a “seamless flow of information.”

Fontaine did not return requests for an interview about the AFN’s co-operation with police.

“These exchanges with police are more evidence that the federal government thoroughly co-opted the Assembly of First Nations under Phil Fontaine, and that the Idle No More movement should be concerned whether this is an ongoing AFN practice,” said Russell Diabo, an aboriginal policy analyst who advised the AFN in the 1990s.

He said the AFN’s dependence on federal funding has weakened its ability to advocate forcefully for First Nations.

“The Canadian government managed to get the AFN under Fontaine to work against its own people, using them to contain the discontent of First Nations and to try to prevent it from spilling into a broad social movement,” Diabo said. “Will the AFN turn against Idle No More and support police interventions?”

The AFN didn’t respond to questions about whether such co-operation has continued under current National Chief Shawn Atleo, who during 2007 was the AFN’s British Columbia vice chief.

Neither would an RCMP spokesperson comment on the nature of current cooperation with the AFN. “The RCMP will collect information on any group involved in protest activity, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity,” a spokesperson said by email.

The government briefing notes acknowledge that mass protests by First Nations would be difficult for police forces to handle.

“The RCMP could manage a number of small or isolated events of short duration, however, multiple protracted incidents could overwhelm resources,” reads one of the documents.

Their intelligence units “capitalize(d) on the relationships in place with the AFN” as well as with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Aboriginal Affairs and private companies to monitor “communities of concern” and “people of interest,” including Tyendinaga Mohawk activist Shawn Brant.

A week after Fontaine had a bi-weekly discussion with top police officials, including then OPP commissioner Julian Fantino, the Tyendinaga Mohawks blockaded a railway and highway, responding to a call from the Chief of Roseau River Terrance Nelson, who had first tabled the idea of a national day of action with blockades.

According to the RCMP documents, Fontaine had “expressed concern around the growing resolve to support the June 29 blockades.”

Hundreds of OPP officers including a sniper squad were deployed to Tyendinaga, in what Amnesty International called a “disproportionate police response that contemplated use of lethal force against unarmed protestors asserting rights protected by treaty and law.”

“I’m now telling you pull the plug or you will suffer grave consequences,” Fantino told Brant the night of the blockade, according to transcripts of wiretapped conversations later released in court. “Your whole world’s going to come crashing down.”

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February 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm

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A comment piece on the Idle No More movement

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Canada’s First Nations protest heralds a new alliance

The grassroots IdleNoMore movement of aboriginal people offers a more sustainable future for all Canadians

 Thursday 20 December 2012 18.24 GMT

IdleNoMore rally in Edmonton, 11 December 2012

An IdleNoMore rally in Edmonton, 11 December 2012

Canada‘s placid winter surface has been broken by unprecedented protests by its aboriginal peoples. In just a few weeks, a small campaign launched against the Conservative government’s budget bill by four aboriginal women has expanded and transformed into a season of discontent: a cultural and political resurgence.

It has seen rallies in dozens of cities, a disruption of legislature, blockades of major highways, drumming flash mobs in malls, a flurry of Twitter activity under the hashtag #IdleNoMore and a hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence, in a tepee minutes from Ottawa’s parliament. Into her tenth day,Spence says she is “willing to die for her people” to get the prime minister, chiefs and Queen to discuss respect for historical treaties.

The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan has dismissed the escalating protest movement, saying “that’s social media, so we’ll just have to see where that goes.” He told international media that relations with First Nations are “very good”. If only that were the truth. What remains unspeakable in mainstream politics in Canada was recently uttered, in a moment of rare candour, by former Prime Minister Paul Martin:

“We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power.”

The evidence – and source of the current anger and unrest – is hard to dispute. While Canada has the world’s largest supply of fresh water, more than 100 aboriginal communities have tapwater so foul they are under continual boil alert (pdf). Aboriginal peoples constitute 3% of Canada’s population; they make up 20% of its prisons’ inmates. In the far north, the rate of tuberculosis is a stunning 137 times that of the rest of the country. And the suicide rate capital of the world? A small reserve in Ontario, where a group of school-age girls once signed a pact to collectively take their lives.

Such realities have not stopped politicians and pundits from prattling on about the sums supposedly lavished on aboriginal peoples. The myth that aboriginals freeload off the state serves to conceal the real scandal: that most money pays for a sprawling government bureaucracy that keeps aboriginals poor, second-class, and dependent. The widespread notion that First Nations mismanage and squander what funds they do receive is simple prejudice:government reports acknowledge that communities are buried under a mountain of strict accounting; they are no more corrupt than non-native municipalities.

Billions have indeed been spent – not on fixing housing, building schools or ending the country’s two-tiered child aid services, but on a legal war against aboriginal communities. Every year, the government pours more than $100m into court battles to curtail aboriginal rights – and that figure alone went to defeating a single lawsuit launched by two Alberta First Nations trying to recover oil royalties essentially stolen by bureaucrats.

Despite such odds, the highest courts of the land have ruled time and again in favour of aboriginal peoples. Over the last three decades, they have recognized that aboriginal nations have hunting, fishing and land rights, in some cases even outright ownership, over vast areas of unceded territory in British Columbia and elsewhere. And that the treaties Chief Spence is starving herself to see upheld – signed by the British Crown in the 1700 and 1800s, and the Canadian government until the early 1900s – mean the land’s wealth should be shared, not pillaged.

Federal and provincial governments have tried to claw back these rights using every means at their disposal: unilateral legislation and one-sided negotiationsspying on and demonizing aboriginal activists, and, when all else fails, shuttling troublesome leaders to jail.

Parliament will soon debate a bill that would break up reserves – still, mostly, collectively held – into individual private property that can be purchased by non-native speculators. The undeclared agenda of government policy is the same as it was a century ago: a grab for resource-rich lands, and the assimilation of aboriginal nations.

Canadians have often turned a blind eye, having been taught to see the rights of aboriginal peoples as a threat to their interests. Dare to restore sovereignty to the original inhabitants, the story goes, and Canadians will be hustled out of their jobs and off the land. Or more absurdly, onto the first ships back to Europe.

But here’s the good news. Amidst a hugely popular national movement against tar sands tankers and pipelines that would cross aboriginal territories, Canadians are starting a different narrative: allying with First Nations that have strong legal rights, and a fierce attachment to their lands and waters, may, in fact, offer the surest chance of protecting the environment and climate. Get behind aboriginal communities that have vetoes over unwanted development, and everyone wins. First Nations aren’t about to push anyone off the land; they simply want to steward it responsibly.

Think of this as a sign of things to come: an image of Vancouver’s mayor, flanked by aboriginal chiefs, speaking out together against a destructive pipeline project. After all, who would Canadians rather control enormous swathes of rural, often pristine land : foreign corporations who see in it only dollar signs over the next financial quarter, or aboriginal communities whose commitment to its sustainability is multigenerational?

The importance of #IdleNoMore cannot be overstated. Grassroots movements are what have ensured the survival of aboriginal culture, and what remains of an aboriginal land base. If it grows in energy and coordinates in a network of activism like Defenders of the Land, it could be a powerful force toreset aboriginal-state relations.

It will not only ensure Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally takes the short drive from his office to visit an ailing Theresa Spence. It may also inspire non-native Canada itself, idle for too long, to reckon with the past and envision a very different future.

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December 28, 2012 at 5:53 am

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More encounters with the geo-engineers

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October 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm

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US geoengineers to spray sun-reflecting chemicals from balloon

Experiment in New Mexico will try to establish the possibility of cooling the planet by dispersing sulphate aerosols

Geoengineering : a rainbow wrapped around the sun

The field experiment in solar geoengineering aims to ultimately create a technology to replicate the observed effects of volcanoes that spew sulphates into the stratosphere. Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images

Two Harvard engineers are to spray sun-reflecting chemical particles into the atmosphere to artificially cool the planet, using a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The field experiment in solar geoengineering aims to ultimately create a technology to replicate the observed effects of volcanoes that spew sulphates into the stratosphere, using sulphate aerosols to bounce sunlight back to space and decrease the temperature of the Earth.

David Keith, one of the investigators, has argued that solar geoengineering could be an inexpensive method to slow down global warming, but other scientists warn that it could have unpredictable, disastrous consequences for the Earth’s weather systems and food supplies. Environmental groups fear that the push to make geoengineering a “plan B” for climate change will undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Keith, who manages a multimillion dollar geoengineering research fund provided by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, previously commissioned a study by a US aerospace company that made the case for the feasibility of large-scale deployment of solar geoengineering technologies.

His US experiment, conducted with American James Anderson, will take place within a year and involve the release of tens or hundreds of kilograms of particles to measure the impacts on ozone chemistry, and to test ways to make sulphate aerosols the appropriate size. Since it is impossible to simulate the complexity of the stratosphere in a laboratory, Keith says the experiment will provide an opportunity to improve models of how the ozone layer could be altered by much larger-scale sulphate spraying.

“The objective is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale,” said Keith. “The direct risk is very small.”

While the experiment may not harm the climate, environmental groups say that the global environmental risks of solar geoengineering have been amply identified through modelling and the study of the impacts of sulphuric dust emitted by volcanoes.

“Impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, and disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions – potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people,” said Pat Mooney, executive director of the Canadian-based technology watchdog ETC Group. “It will do nothing to decrease levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or halt ocean acidification. And solar geoengineering is likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict – given that the modelling to date shows it poses greater risks to the global south.”

A scientific study published last month concluded that solar radiation management could decrease rainfall by 15% in areas of North America and northern Eurasia and by more than 20% in central South America.

Last autumn, a British field test of a balloon-and-hosepipe device that would have pumped water into the sky generated controversy. Thegovernment-funded project – Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (Spice) – was cancelled after a row over patents and a public outcry by global NGOs, some of whom argued the project was a “Trojan horse” that would open the door to full-scale deployment of the technology.

Keith said he opposed Spice from the outset because it would not have improved knowledge of the risks or effectiveness of solar geoengineering, unlike his own experiment.

“I salute the British government for getting out and trying something,” he said. “But I wish they’d had a better process, because those opposed to any such experiments will see it as a victory and try to stop other experiments as well.”

The Guardian understands that Keith is planning to use the Gates-backed fund to organise a meeting to study the lessons of Spice.

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September 27, 2012 at 4:39 am

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Quebec’s ‘truncheon law’ rebounds as student strike spreads

A draconian law to quell demonstrations has only galvanised public support for young Quebecois protesting tuition fee hikes

Student protest in Montreal, Quebec, 22 May 2012

At a tiny church tucked away in a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal’s east end, Quebec‘s new outlaws gathered on Sunday for a day of deliberations. Aged mostly between 18 and 22, their membership in a progressive student union has made them a target of government scorn and scrutiny. And they have been branded a menace to society because of their weapons: ideas of social justice and equal opportunity in education, alongside the ability to persuade hundreds of thousands to join them in the streets.

Under a draconian law passed by the Quebec government on Friday, their very meeting could be considered a criminal act. Law 78 – unprecedented in recent Canadian history – is the latest, most desperate manoeuvre of a provincial government that is afraid it has lost control over a conflict that began as a student strike against tuition hikes but has since spread into a protest movement with wide-ranging social and environmental demands.

Labelled a “truncheon law” by its critics, it imposes severe restrictions on the right to protest. Any group of 50 or more protesters must submit plans to police eight hours ahead of time; they can be denied the right to proceed. Picket lines at universities and colleges are forbidden, and illegal protests are punishable by fines from $5,000 to $125,000 for individuals and unions – as well as by the seizure of union dues and the dissolution of their associations.

In other words, the government has decided to smash the student movement by force.

The government quickly launched a public relations offensive to defend itself. Full-page ads in local newspapers ran with the headline: “For the sake of democracy and citizenship.” Quebec’s minister of public security, Robert Dutil, prattled about the many countries that have passed similar laws:

“Other societies with rights and freedoms to protect have found it reasonable to impose certain constraints – first of all to protect protesters, and also to protect the public.”

Such language is designed to make violence sound benevolent and infamy honourable. But it did nothing to mask reality for those who have flooded the streets since the weekend and encountered police emboldened by the new legislation. Riot squads beat and tear-gassed people indiscriminately, targeted journalists, pepper-sprayed bystanders in restaurants, and mass-arrested hundreds, including more than 500 Wednesday night – bringing the tally from the last three months ofprotest to a record Canadian high of more than 2,500. The endless night-time drone of helicopters has become the serenade song of a police state.

In its contempt for students and citizens, the government has riled a population with strong, bitter memories of harsh measures against social unrest – whether the dark days of the iron-fisted Duplessis era, themartial law enforced by the Canadian army in 1970, or years of labour battles marred by the jailing of union leaders. These and other occasions have shown Québécois how the political elite has no qualms about trampling human rights to maintain a grip on power.

Which is why those with experience of struggle fresh and old have answered Premier Jean Charest with unanimity and collective power. There are now legal challenges in the works, broad appeals for civil disobedience, and a brilliant website created by the progressive CLASSEstudent union, on which thousands have posted photos of themselves opposing the law. (The website’s title is “Somebody arrest me” but also puns on a phrase to shake a person out of a crazed mental spell.)

And Wednesday, on the 100th day of the student strike, Québécois from every walk of life offered a rejoinder to the claim that “marginals” were directing and dominating the protests: an estimated 300,000-400,000 people marched in the streets, another Canadian record, and in full violation of the new law. They brandished the iconic red squares that have now transformed into a symbol not just of accessible education but the defence of basic freedoms of assembly and protest. Late into the night, a spirit of jubilant defiance spread through the city. On balconies along entire streets, and on intersections occupied by young and old, thesound of banging pots and pans rang out, a practice used under Latin American regimes.

The clarity that has fired the students’ protest has, until now, conspicuously eluded most of English-speaking Canada. This is because the image of the movement has been skewed and distorted by the establishment media. Sent into paroxysms of bafflement and contemptby the striking students, they have painted them as spoiled kids or crazed radicals out of touch with society, who should give up their supposed entitlements and accept the stark economic realities of the age.

All this is said with a straight face. But young people in Quebec, followed now by many others, have not been fooled. They know the global economic crisis of 2008 exposed as never before the abuses of corporate finance, and that those responsible were bailed out rather than held to account. They know that meetings of international leaders at the G20 end by dispatching ministers home to pay the bills on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable, with tuition hikes and a toxic combination of neoliberal economic policies. And with every baton blow and tear-gas blast, they perceive with ever greater lucidity that their government will turn ultimately to brute violence to impose such programs and frighten those who dissent.

To those who marched Wednesday, and the great numbers who cheered them on, the fault-lines of justice are evident. This is a government that has refused to sit down and negotiate with student leaders in good faith, but invites an organised crime boss to a fundraising breakfast; a government that has claimed free education is an idea not even worth dreaming about, when it would cost only 1% of Quebec’s budget and could be paid for simply by reversing the regressive tax reforms, corporate give-aways, or capital tax phase-outs of the last decade; a government whose turn to authoritarian tactics has now triggered a sharp decline in support, and which has clumsily accelerated a social crisis that may now only begin to be resolved by meeting the students’ demands.

As the debate went on at the CLASSE meeting in the church last Sunday, the students’ foresight proved wise beyond their years. “History doesn’t get made in a day,” one argued into the microphone. Not in a day, no doubt, but in Quebec, over this spring and the summer, history is indeed being made.

Written by martin lukacs

May 27, 2012 at 4:31 am

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For a blog post about the RCMP response to the story, see below.–rcmp-spied-on-b-c-natives-protesting-pipeline-plan-documents-show

RCMP spied on B.C. natives protesting pipeline plan, documents show

Published on Wednesday May 09, 2012

MARK BLINCH/REUTERSChief Na’Moks of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, left, Chief Martin Louie of Nadleh Whut’en, centre, and Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz nation attend Enbridge’s annual shareholders imeeting in Toronto on Wednesday.
Martin Lukacs and Tim Groves
Special to the Star

The RCMP has been spying on a group of British Columbia First Nations whose vocal opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline has taken them to the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Toronto, according to documents obtained through an access-to-information request.

The documents show that a provincial RCMP unit has been closely tracking the potential for “acts of protest and civil disobedience” by the Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of northern B.C. First Nations who have been at the centre of resistance to Enbridge’s $5.5 billion pipeline proposal.

Their territory covers a quarter of the route of the pipeline, which would carry more than 500,000 barrels of oilsands crude from Alberta through pristine territory to Kitimat, B.C., for export by supertanker to Asia and other markets.

The revelations add ammunition to critics who have charged that the Harper government is waging a campaign to demonize legitimate opponents of resource developments like the Northern Gateway, by labelling them as radicals or including them in Canada’s “counter-terrorism” strategy.

Saik’uz First Nation Chief Jackie Thomas, a member of the Yinka Dene Alliance who made a cross-country trip on the “Freedom Train” to protest in Toronto against the pipeline on Wednesday, said she has had suspicions for some time about RCMP surveillance.

“We’ve always been peaceful, but this is how they try to paint us as the enemy,” said Thomas, a grandmother and mother of four concerned that an oil spill could destroy the lands she hunts and fishes on with many of her community members.

“The federal government seems to be using all its arms to push through this project against the will of anyone who opposes it, but we won’t be deterred. It is not a crime to defend our land and waters from a tarsands pipeline and to make the future safe for our grandkids.”

According to the documents, the RCMP unit gathered intelligence from unspecified “industry reports,” newspapers and websites, and Facebook and Flickr photo accounts.

They also appear to have monitored private meetings, including one between First Nations and environmental organizations held in Fraser Lake, B.C., at the end of November, which Thomas says was not announced publicly.

The meeting’s purpose was “to strengthen the alliance between First Nations and environmental groups opposing Enbridge,” an intelligence report from December states.

Enbridge declined to comment about whether it has been exchanging information with the RCMP.

The monthly intelligence reports note that the oil company “will experience increasingly intense protest activity due to the environmental sensitivity of the Northern Gateway path, combined with the fact that the territory has never been ceded to the Crown by First Nations in B.C.”

The pipeline would cross more than 700 rivers and streams, whose abundance of fish has spawned an economy integral to the region, and three vital watersheds: the Mackenzie, the Fraser and the Skeena.

More than 100 First Nations have banned an Enbridge pipeline from their territories, declaring “we will not allow our fish, animals, plants, people and ways of life to be placed at risk.”

An intelligence report notes that the Yinka Dene Alliance will show an “increasing propensity and likelihood of utilizing blockades and confrontation to deter industry from accessing disputed territory.”

With opposition growing among the B.C. population, including NDP leader Adrian Dix, likely the next premier, Enbridge will face an uphill battle to build the pipeline.

As previously reported in the Star, a national RCMP surveillance program monitoring First Nations that ran between 2007 and 2010 shared similar intelligence reports about First Nations with the private sector, including energy companies.

According to newly released documents, since the closure of that national program the surveillance has continued under different RCMP branches.

A RCMP spokesperson said intelligent reports are provided only to law-enforcement agencies.

The provincial unit has been tracking protests by other B.C. First Nations, including opposition to the Pacific Trails pipeline that would bring liquefied natural gas to the coast for export, and the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline carrying Alberta crude oil to tankers in Vancouver.

The RCMP also kept tabs on conflicts over logging, mining, and fracking, and monitored ongoing and potential court cases involving First Nations.

RCMP reacts to exposure of its surveillance of BC Indigenous protest

In response to our Toronto Star article exposing a police unit that monitored Indigenous protest in BC, the  RCMP issued a letter — see below — to “First Nations Leaders and Communities”.

They call the article “irresponsible,” “sensationalist” and “not correct.”

Sounds to me like damage control, but let’s assess their concerns.

The letter is mostly a quibble with our use of the terms “spying” and “surveillance.” This is the definition of “spying” I found in the Oxford dictionary: “to work for a government or other organization by secretly obtaining information about enemies or competitors.”

The public didn’t know an RCMP division was monitoring First Nations protests. It wasn’t exactly advertised. Wouldn’t that make it a case of “secretly obtaining information”? And wouldn’t that constitute “spying”?

The RCMP spokesperson writes: ‘the journalist used words like RCMP “spying” and “surveillance”, somehow suggesting we were infiltrating meetings and so on. I assure you this was not the case and the information was collected from open source as well as discussion with First Nations leadership.’

First, we never stated, or even implied, that they infiltrated meetings. Certainly, the kind of spying we were describing wasn’t of the break-and-entering, phone-tapping and room-bugging variety. Police use those techniques and others, of course, but the kind of surveillance we exposed was of a different sort — the political targetting of groups engaged in activities perceived as a threat to the status quo. (There is plenty of evidence to show that this surveillance, under the federal Conservative government, is escalating because of increased First Nation protest in the face of unwanted resource extraction and development.)

Interestingly, the spokesperson has nothing to say about the “industry reports,” nor how they found out about a private meeting between First nations and environmental organizations.

What also caught my eye was that the RCMP spokesperson acknowledges they gathered information from discussions with First Nation leadership (this might explain how they found out about the aforementioned meeting).

These conversations are obviously not public. Which makes it sound like the very definition of cultivating informants — another method of spying and surveillance.

Would the RCMP be able to reveal which “First Nations leadership” it consulted?  Perhaps it happened with a figure like Elmer Derrick, the negotiator with the Gitxsan Treaty Office who signed a deal with Enbridge and was then hounded by angry community members. He later received a federal post; MP Nathan Cullen suggested it was a reward for supporting the pipeline.

The spokesperson states that the RCMP’s main objective is to monitor any “challenge to public safety.” In the documents, we didn’t find a single occasion where public safety — that is, the prevention of danger to people’s bodies or lives — was at stake. We did, however, notice that the RCMP’s attention was directed at situations where the safety of corporate profits and government control over First Nations territories might be jeopardized. Which might point us to the real nature of the RCMP’s work.

Open Letter to First Nations Leadership and Communities.

From: Paul RICHARDS []
Sent: Thursday, May 10, 2012 6:10 PM
Subject: Open Letter to First Nations Leadership and Communities.

Dear First Nation Leaders and Community Members:

RE: Toronto Star Article on RCMP ‘Spying’ on First Nations.

By way of introduction, I am the RCMP Officer based in Vancouver and responsible for Aboriginal Policing Services in British Columbia.

I wanted to write in an effort to be transparent and continue our open dialogue within this province with all First Nations, and the way in which this article was written, in my opinion, is not correct and creates misunderstanding.

To be clear, the documents referred to did not have any surveillance, source,  informant or other information contained in them.

As the reporter mentions in his article, it is simply a summary of issues concerning First Nation communities where dispute or legal protest is occurring, as gathered from open source information (Internet, news reports, social networks, etc).

This document is used by myself and other police managers province-wide to fully understand each and every situation throughout BC and any potential for a situation where a challenge to public safety may possibly develop.

In the article, the journalist used words like RCMP “spying” and “surveillance”, somehow suggesting we were infiltrating meetings and so on. I assure you this was not the case and the information was collected from open source as well as discussion with First Nations leadership. In my view, the way it was reported is sensationalist, irresponsible and misrepresents what is actually contained in it.

It is the expectation of our communities and leadership that we, the police, be informed of the issues in our communities and understand the dynamics for all. We support dissent and legal protest, and understanding  situations and upholding public safety means for everyone, no matter what your viewpoint on a particular issue.

I would also add that we try to maintain awareness of potential public safety issues for all communities throughout BC, not simply First Nations communities. I take issue with the journalist implying otherwise.

I thank you for hearing my voice and opinion on this matter.

Paul Richards, Supt
A/Deputy Criminal Operations Officer –
Core Policing
E Division


Martin Lukacs is a independent journalist based in Montreal.


Written by martin lukacs

May 9, 2012 at 4:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized