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Jasmine Kabatay: Stop spying on the good guys, Canada

There are bigger threats in Canada than Indigenous activists. Spying on them isn't just a violation of their rights— it’s a waste of money and resources that could be used to actually address their concerns.

People hold up a sign during a demonstration on Parliament Hill, as a crowd gathered to erect a teepee as part of a four-day Canada Day protest, in Ottawa on Thursday, June 29, 2017. VICE News reported that some of the protesters involved in the Parliament Hill teepee were monitored by police.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

People hold up a sign during a demonstration on Parliament Hill, as a crowd gathered to erect a teepee as part of a four-day Canada Day protest, in Ottawa on Thursday, June 29, 2017. VICE News reported that some of the protesters involved in the Parliament Hill teepee were monitored by police.

What do we Canadians see as a threat? Terrorists or activists?

If you’re an Indigenous activist, you might be seen as someone worth watching by the government.

Canada has been spying on Indigenous activism for years now, keeping a close eye on public figures and Indigenous issues, like the rallies that called for an inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls.

One of the public figures monitored was Cindy Blackstock. In her case, both aboriginal affairs and the department of justice monitored her, watching her Facebook activities and attending multiple speaking engagements. This was all detailed in a 2011 report by then privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

VICE News recently obtained documents showing the RCMP monitored Indigenous activists who erected a teepee on Parliament Hill before Canada 150 celebrations, which resulted in arrests.

Idle No More activists march along Highway 403 on January 5, 2013.

Gary Yokoyama/ Torstar News Service

Idle No More activists march along Highway 403 on January 5, 2013.

And it’s not just certain people or protests — it’s essentially any protest or activism that Indigenous peoples are apart of that gets them monitored, from the peaceful protests to blockades.  

In fact, a 2015 report from the RCMP shows the Mounties compiled a list of 89 Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists who were considered “threats” in an operation called Project SITKA. The monitoring was undertaken, according to APTN’s account of the report, after Idle No More and environmental protests sprung up, part of an RCMP effort to build intelligence around Indigenous rights demonstrations.

These stories of violation are horrifying and disturbing in so many ways. But my first question is simple: Why? The people that were involved in activism were taking on particular issues, such as pipelines, child welfare, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — the matters facing our people and country.

Is Canada so threatened by Indigenous peoples that the government feels the need to spy on them for caring about their communities?

The monitoring of Indigenous activists shows we’re apparently on par with journalists who are also considered a “threat.”

Activists at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Activists at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Just last year it was revealed that provincial police spied on six Quebec journalists in 2013, tracking outgoing and incoming calls on their cellphones. The province has since launched an inquiry into the matter.

Freedom of expression, the press and peaceful assembly are protected under the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms.

Not only are these invasions a violation of rights, it’s also a waste of money to spy on people who are trying to help others. Public funds could be better spent on people who are actively trying to cause harm to other people, like those who commit hate crimes.

There are bigger threats in Canada than Indigenous activists.

The Canadian government should be focusing on those real threats instead of people trying to create change and voice problems the Canadian government has forced upon them.

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