In January, during the week before Canada’s federal hearing on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Harper government and Ethical Oil Institute launched an unprecedented attack on environmental organizations opposed to the pipeline and accelerated expansion of the tar sands. Resurrecting Cold War-style ‘terrorist’ rhetoric, conservative politicians like Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver referred to prominent environmental organizations as “radical groups” threatening “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda” while using “funding from foreign special interests groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”
The government and Ethical Oil singled out environmental organizations like the Sierra Club
, and the Pembina Institute
, in an orchestrated effort to undermine the credibility of pipeline opponents and to cast doubt on their intentions for the Enbridge Pipeline hearings.
Counterterrorism in Alberta
The unit, called the K Division of Canada’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET
), is part of an expanding National Security Criminal Investigations Program designed to “prevent, detect, deny and respond to criminal threats to Canada’s national security,” according to an RCMP press release
Alberta’s K Division is the only INSET unit created since the program’s initial groups were established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The unit consists of RCMP officers, the Edmonton Police Services, the Calgary Police Services, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
“The establishment of an INSET
team will enable the RCMP
and our policing partners in Alberta to work more collaboratively towards the detection of criminal activity in this province that has the potential to impact security,” she added
As the Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday
, the RCMP
would not say if the unit was created in response to specific threats or if it would focus its attention on specific portions of the province’s energy infrastructure.
However Greg Cox, media relations for the RCMP
in Ottawa, did tell the Globe and Mail
that there is “no indication that the threat level is higher” in Alberta, adding, “as in any part of the country, we need to remain vigilant.”
The RCMP states
the creation of Alberta’s INSET
was “prompted by factors such as a growing population, a strong economy supported by the province’s natural resources and the need to protect critical infrastructure.”
The Creation of “Terror Identities”
Yet members of the environmental community saw this as another strategic move to silence, discredit and threaten environmental voices.
The report states
that “low-level violence by domestic issue-based groups remains a reality in Canada. Such extremism tends to be based on grievances – real or perceived – revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.”
Within the parameters of Canada’s new Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the kind of pipeline or tar sands development opposition the government faces can be labeled environmental extremism and thus considered a domestic terrorist threat.
In their paper, entitled “Making Up ‘Terror Identities’”
, the authors describe the production of categories under which the government identifies potential security threats. Analyzing 25 classified reports from Canadian policing and intelligence agencies, gained through Access to Information requests, they uncovered the emergence of a new class of domestic threat in the country: Multi Issue Extremism (MIE
Moving to counteract MIE, the Canadian government has expanded their early terrorist concerns with “financial security and Al-Queda-inspired terror groups” to include “activist groups, indigenous groups, environmentalists and others who are publicly critical of government policy.”
Monaghan and Walby suggest that the government’s increasing concern with MIE is responsible for transforming what constitutes a ‘perceived threat’ in the country, leading to “slippages and inconsistencies of threat categories.”
For this reason, the government has created its own cause to cast the terrorism net wider than in previous times.
As Monaghan and Walby describe the process, once a group is identified as a ‘domestic security concern’ the government establishes special task forces or “intelligence clusters” (like INSET) that engage in the construction of “terror identities.”
By circulating information between agencies like the RCMP, CSIS, other government agencies and the mass media, these ‘clusters’ construct the perception of a threat, lending it a certain ‘facticity.’ Once the ‘terror identity’ gains currency it is short work for these agencies to justify “domestic spying campaigns that target grassroots social movements under the statutory responsibilities of Canadian law.”
How much more clearly could the attack on Canada's environmental and First Nation groups be framed?
Surveillance of Tar Sands Opposition?
The creation of Alberta’s counterterrorism unit is an anticipated step in this spy-and-suppress process, as Monaghan describes it.
“It is very much in line with the trend of committing more and more national security and counter-terrorism resources without a corresponding basis in any kind of particular threats,” he told the Globe and Mail
“We are basically looking at any individuals or groups that pose a threat to critical infrastructure, to our economy, to our safety that is based on either religious, political or ideological goals,” he said
Michaud suggested the unit was not created to spy on those opposed to the tar sands or its supporting pipelines, telling the National Post
that “there has to be violence attached to their activities in order for us to pay attention to them.”
But he followed this statement by adding
: “That being said, in our role of preventing these threats from occurring, it is important that intelligence is collected against the activities of groups before they become violent.”