News / Vancouver

CSIS watchdog probe begins in Vancouver into spying on environmental groups

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CSIS's logo.

Hearings will begin Wednesday in Vancouver to investigate complaints about spying on local environmental and community groups.

The hearings by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), responsible for oversight of the spy agency Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), will take place behind closed doors.

The hearings are being held after complaints filed against CSIS and the RCMP by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which says the spy agency should not be gathering intelligence on democratic environmental groups and volunteer activists.

“Spying on peaceful citizens is an attack on democracy,” Josh Paterson, executive director of the BCCLA, said Tuesday.

“People have the right to participate in important public debates and shouldn’t have to worry about being spied on by our own security and police agencies,” he said.

Paterson will be the first witness to testify Wednesday at the hearings, which are being held in Federal Court in Vancouver.

“It’s the first time I’m aware of that CSIS is being taken to task,” he told Metro.

Paterson said he will testify about BCCLA’s position that spying on legitimate environmental and community groups is unconstitutional.

The groups spied on include the Sierra Club of B.C., the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics Advocacy, Leadnow.ca and Open Media, he said.

Witnesses from some of those organizations will testify at the three-day hearing, which is not open to the public or the media, Paterson said.

He said freedom-of-information requests have shown that CSIS shared some of its intelligence on environmental groups with “a whole flock” of oil companies. The event was held as CSIS headquarters with a lunch sponsored by Enbridge, he said.

“We don’t want cozy information-sharing with oil companies. That’s alarming,” Paterson said.

“Were they [CSIS] putting moles in these different community organizations? I don’t know…and I won’t be in the room when they disclose that information.”

Paterson added: “We know people decided not to sign petitions or get involved [with some groups] because they didn’t want to end up on some kind of list.”

He said the hearings will have an unusual media ban, prohibiting photographs of people entering the Federal Court building, presumably to protect the identities of CSIS spies attending the hearing.

Paterson said BCCLA’s complaint to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP still has not been resolved

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