CSIS examined whether rail blockades supporting the Wet’suwet’en qualify as terrorism
Canada’s Civilian Intelligence Service has assessed whether First Nations land rights activists who disrupt trains should be classified as a « terrorist threat » to national security alongside al-Qaeda and ISIS, according to reports. declassified documents.
But the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) ultimately decided the label wouldn’t stick after probing the issue in secret internal studies whose findings were shared with government officials at an unclassified counter-terrorism briefing by March 2021.
CSIS came to this conclusion by analyzing the Canadian Criminal Code, according to which, to be considered terrorism, interference with or disruption of essential services must cause death or injury through violence, or otherwise cause a serious risk. for public health and safety.
« Unsophisticated acts of unlawful interference [like blockades] do not cross the threshold of terrorism,” the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Center (ITAC) said in a report released under the Access to Information Act.
« While these disruptive actions harm the economy and the operation of the rail network, they do not yet constitute acts of terrorism. »
Concern linked to blockages, demonstrations of solidarity
ITAC employs officials from across Canada’s security and intelligence bureaucracy and produces reports for federal leaders based on accessible and classified sources.
It is hosted by CSIS, which is responsible for monitoring and reporting potential threats to national security arising from hostile acts of subversion, sabotage, espionage and terrorism.
Although heavily censored, the documents confirm that the spy service’s concerns were partly related to the February 2020 Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests, which disrupted rail corridors for weeks.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their nation’s territory in northern British Columbia.
CSIS was also concerned about a stalemate over a housing estate in Caledonia, Ontario, which Haudenosaunee activists from neighboring Six Nations began occupying in July 2020 amid a longstanding dispute over claims. territories, nicknaming it 1492 Land Back Lane. Activists erected roadblocks and shut down a CN rail line following police raids in August 2020 and October 2020, respectively.
The 247-page statement begins with a November 2020 report on the unrest in Caledonia, previously published by APTN News, in which the service raised « notable concerns » about the camp’s impact on critical infrastructure in southern Ontario.
Then, on December 15, 2020, CSIS’s Intelligence Assessment Directorate wrote a classified report triggered by a decision by U.S. prosecutors to lay terrorism charges against two women accused of attempting to sabotage trains in the Washington State.
« The authors would have acted in favor of the  Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests and had ties to anti-authoritarian movements that seek lawlessness and advocate for civil unrest, » ITAC said.
ITAC however felt that « these acts probably do not constitute terrorism, or are defined as such in Canadian law, and probably have more to do with vandalism against a symbol of so-called [oppression]. »
Even so, CSIS was clearly concerned about anarchist interference in First Nations-led protests, describing these groups as agitators who cling to democratic dissent to stir up social disorder « where their ideology can. to profit from ».
And while they are not quite terrorists, the documents indicate that CSIS labels First Nations activists and allies who participate in blockades as « ideologically motivated violent extremists », and therefore potential threats to the national security that warrant state surveillance.
Criminologist calls reports ’embarrassing’
Jeffrey Monaghan, an associate professor of criminology at Carleton University, analyzed the documents and found much of it concerning.
Terrorism prosecutions have slowed in recent years, Monaghan said, so he called it interesting to see CSIS « shop around » for the idea of potentially bringing terrorism charges against rail disrupters.
“We have expanded the war on terror so widely that indigenous rights activists are being scrutinized as potential terrorists,” he said.
« It’s really a symptom of the war on terror stretching so far and developing all these resources that they have to be used. »
Monaghan fears the ITAC is disseminating through the federal security bureaucracy “false” claims that politically discredit First Nations-led activism, portraying it as the work of potential terrorists, violent extremists or intruding agitators.
He said the tendency to attribute First Nations direct action tactics to subversive outsiders has been part of CSIS’s institutional culture for years. In 1990, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Georges Erasmus, denounced this narrative as « implicitly racist ».
Monaghan called the use of extremist framing documents « troublesome » because ITAC reports circulate internally to other agencies, and said they offer « preventive » intelligence that police can use to justify brutality.
« It raises so many questions about why they would so quickly try to delegitimize indigenous-led protests by basically trying to say it’s antifa, » Monaghan said.
“Their willingness to almost jump over the real political grievances, the real political movement, and all of a sudden cling to those tropes of delegitimization really paints an internal picture of police intelligence culture that doesn’t take Indigenous affairs seriously.”
No comment from CSIS
CSIS declined to make its director available or respond directly to questions from CBC News, saying in a statement that it does not investigate legal protests or democratic dissent, and that the service is bound by the definition of threat to national security in the CSIS Act.
The service declined to respond to Monaghan’s assertion that CSIS should not monitor nonviolent, unarmed First Nations activism under the category of potential terrorist threats, even though such actions are allegedly illegal.
CSIS media relations officer Eric Balsam said the service is investing in trust-building activities and exploring opportunities for engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. When asked which communities the service engaged with, Balsam said the information was classified.
“We do not publicly comment on, confirm or deny details of our investigations, operational interests, methodologies or activities,” Balsam said.
All CSIS activities and records are subject to oversight bodies – the National Security Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), Balsam added. .
Those concerned about CSIS activities use the NSIRA complaints mechanism, he added.