Hello, CSIS!

This post originally appeared on the Dogwood Initiative blog.

I should confess: I talk to lamp fixtures.

I wink at ceiling vents, sing to the dashboard in my car, apologize to the people eavesdropping on my phone calls for how boring my conversations are.

I can’t pinpoint when this running joke began, but it was sometime after I left television journalism and began to publicly criticize the government. Now that I work at Dogwood Initiative — where we’ve actually been the target of homeland surveillance — the joke is less funny.

Last week Dogwood organizers testified at a secret hearing of the Security Intelligence Review Committee — the “watchdog” tasked with keeping CSIS on a leash. We allege not only that Canada’s spy service broke the law by gathering information on peaceful civilians inside Canada, but that government spying has put a chill on democratic participation.

Do you know that feeling, that you’re being watched? It’s like when you park your vehicle in a bad spot and have to walk there after dark. Or you come home after a trip and the door is unlocked. Or you peer into the webcam on your phone or computer and wonder, is anyone there?

CSIS “Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny” Spying on Me (Or You For That Matter)

When I asked the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) whether it has files on me or DeSmog Canada, I got a response that's been used as a non-answer by government spokespeople and celebrity publicists for 40-plus years: We can “neither confirm nor deny” the records exist.

The intelligence body doesn't have to disclose such information because it's exempt from Canada’s Access to Information legislation since it relates to “the detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities.”

Hmph. Some part of me was expecting them to simply say “no.” While non-denial denial responses like this are pretty par for the course when dealing with intelligence services — the phrase was first conjured up during a clandestine CIA submarine operation in the 1970s — it's disconcerting in light of the federal government’s proposed anti-terrorism bill C-51, which would increase the powers of CSIS and its role in government-sponsored spying.

As others have pointed out, bill C-51 will allow dangerously strong measures to be taken against even perceived terror threats or individuals that pose a threat to Canada’s critical infrastructure, such as pipelines, or the nation’s financial security.

The Wars At Home: What State Surveillance of an Indigenous Rights Campaigner Tells Us About Real Risk in Canada

This is a guest post by Shiri Pasternak.

Recent revelations that the RCMP spied on Indigenous environmental rights activist Clayton Thomas-Muller should not be dismissed as routine monitoring. They reveal a long-term, national energy strategy that is coming increasingly into conflict with Indigenous rights and assertions of Indigenous jurisdiction over lands and resources.

A “Critical Infrastructure Suspicious Incident” report was triggered by Thomas-Muller’s trip in 2010 to the Unist’ot’en camp of Wet’suwet’en land defenders, where a protect camp was being built on the coordinates of a proposed Pacific Trails pipeline.

Nothing to Hide: Pipelines, Spies and Animal Print Underpants

jess housty

More and more often, we are reading in the news about the federal government and various intelligence and law enforcement agencies allegedly “spying” on aboriginals and pipeline opponents.

I am both of those things. I have no idea whether strangers are picking up shards of information from my emails and text messages. I have no idea what kind of beautiful stained-glass mosaics their imaginations might create. But in the spirit of wild and optimistic honesty, I would like to make a declaration to them, just in case:

I have nothing to hide from you.

Sometimes I can be arrogant. I’m very bad at playing guitar, but you know, I think I can sing pretty nicely. I like an embarrassing amount of honey in my tea. When I hike in the forest, I like to run. I write poems on napkins and receipts and scraps of paper and most of the time, I lose them; maybe you’ve found some. I don’t make my bed. Even though I think they’re silly, sometimes when it’s laundry day I resort to wearing animal print underpants.

Legal Expert: "Inherent Challenge" in Having Enbridge Lobbyist Serve as Spy Watchdog

Chuck Strahl, CSIS, SIRC, Enbridge, Northern Gateway, DeSmog Canada

Recent revelations that Canada’s top spy watchdog Chuck Strahl is also a paid lobbyist for Enbridge and Northern Gateway Pipelines have Canadians in a rightful tizzy. The implications are grim, especially for citizens already concerned with federal overreach in the surveillance of environmental groups opposing the Enbridge's Northern Gateway oil pipeline and tanker proposal for B.C.'s coast.

Strahl is the federally appointed chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), an independent and non-partisan oversight agency designed to keep an eye on all activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

In November the Vancouver Observer released internal documents showing the federal government, the RCMP and CSIS had been working closely with the energy industry to address the issue of pipeline opposition and other barriers to energy development. Cross-sector responses between government and industry included the monitoring of environmental groups.

Lorne Sossin, dean of the Osgoode Law School at York University and specialist in constitutional law, regulation of professions and public policy, told DeSmog while Strahl may not be using his role as CSIS watchdog to advance the interests of Enbridge, the overlap of roles poses some threat to his perceived ability to perform as an independent adjudicator.

Canada’s Intelligence Watchdog Hired as Northern Gateway Lobbyist

Chuck Strahl, CSIS, SIRC, Enbridge, Northern Gateway, DeSmog Canada

That revolving door just keeps on turning.

As the Vancouver Observer recently reported, Canada’s spy watchdog and former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl registered in December to lobby the B.C. government on behalf of Enbridge subsidiary Northern Gateway Pipelines L.P.

B.C. lobby records show Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc. registered to lobby Rich Coleman, B.C. Minister of Natural Gas Development, arranging meetings with Northern Gateway representatives to discuss the issues of “energy.” The registration runs until June 2014.

I do some contract work for Enbridge,” Strahl told the Vancouver Observer. “I’ve registered just in case I arrange a meeting, but no meetings to report.”

The story has gained particular traction in light of November revelations regarding CSIS involvement in spying on opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

CSIS Involvement in Enbridge Hearings Makes National News

When I sat down Tuesday night to put some thoughts on paper about allegations of spying on Canadian environmental and pro-democracy groups, I never imagined those musings would end up being read by tens of thousands of people and spawn news coverage across the country.

But that’s exactly what happened. In my original piece, I lamented that the story wasn’t being covered by traditional news outlets — but within a couple of days the Globe and Mail, Metro, Sun News, the Victoria Times Colonist and CBC had picked up on the story. The National Energy Board, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), several politicians and Alberta’s energy minister all commented on the spying allegations.

On Monday morning, I did three CBC Radio interviews — here's a clip of me discussing the spying allegations on Daybreak North.

I’ve spent much of the past week brushing up on the ins and outs of surveillance, speaking to lawyers, reporters and trusted friends about the implications of the Vancouver Observer’s report.

Here are answers to the three most pressing questions raised by this news.

The Day I Found Out the Canadian Government Was Spying on Me

DeSmog Canada's Emma Gilchrist

Nov. 19th, 2013. A Tuesday. The day started out sunny, but hail fell out of the sky in the afternoon. It was a Victoria day like any other until I found out the Canadian government has been vigorously spying on several Canadian organizations that work for environmental protections and democratic rights.

I read the news in the Vancouver Observer. There, front and centre, was the name of the organization I worked for until recently: Dogwood Initiative.

My colleagues and I had been wary of being spied on for a long time, but having it confirmed still took the wind out of me.

I told my parents about the article over dinner. They’re retired school teachers who lived in northern Alberta for 35 years before moving to Victoria.

I asked them: “Did you know the Canadian government is spending your tax dollars to spy on your daughter?”

I Spy With My Little Eye: Should Canadians Care About Surveillance?

This is a guest post by Michael Harris, writer, journalist and documentary maker.

According to the pollsters at Ipsos-Reid, about half of all Canadians don’t care if their own government is spying on them through CSEC, Canada’s national cryptologic agency.

A whopping 77 per cent of us apparently actively support such spying when it is justified by the claim that it helps prevent terrorist attacks. So the message to government is that to get buy-in from three-quarters of Canadians on gross violations of privacy, simply play the terrorist card.

(The fact that we are spying on an ally, Brazil, has sparked less public interest than Vanity Fair’s upcoming tongue-wagger on Gwyneth Paltrow.)

There are two problems with our laissez-faire attitude about the government listening in. None of us will ever be able to check the claims of the authorities when they say they acted in the interests of national security – it’s classified; and governments routinely lie about alleged security threats to get around the messy business of defending the indefensible in public.

Canada's Secret Spy Agency Sued for Spying on You

CSEC Common Criteria Icon

WARNING: Military Spooks Probably Know You Are Reading This

You could be in Canada's secret surveillance database. All it takes is a phone call, text message or email to someone in another country. And every time you visit a website your location, your browsing history and other metadata can be collected by the little-known Communications Security Establishment Canada.

All of this is illegal according to BC Civil Liberties Association which filed a lawsuit in BC Supreme Court Tuesday.

Unaccountable and unchecked government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms,” says Joseph Arvay, Q.C., lawyer for the BC Civil Liberties Association.

“We are deeply concerned that CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) is gaining secret, illegal access to the private communications of ordinary Canadians,” said Arvay.

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