Activists, advocates criticize CSIS for weighing if rail blockades could be classed as terrorism


Activists and advocates who’ve been focused for authorities snooping previously are denouncing what they see as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s “vilification” of First Nations activism.

They say they know the state is watching, but it surely nonetheless got here as a shock to be taught CSIS secretly weighed whether or not rail blockades could qualify as “acts of terrorism” in studies starting in November 2020.

“It is a completely ridiculous sentiment to me that in 2022 when Indigenous individuals make a stand for their lands and their water, we get known as terrorists,” mentioned Skyler Williams, a outstanding Mohawk activist from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario.

“It’s an actual wrestle for me to grasp the way you could be known as a terrorist for that, or a violent extremist.”

CSIS compiled this authorized evaluation in March 2021 assessing whether or not rail blockades could be thought-about terrorism. (Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre)

Williams is the spokesperson for a gaggle of Six Nations members who occupied a housing improvement in July 2020 in Caledonia, Ont. They renamed the positioning 1492 Land Back Lane and proceed to carry it.

In September 2020, Caledonia’s municipal police companies board known as them “terrorists.”

But the CSIS intelligence assessments, produced shortly after that and launched this yr by access-to-information regulation, present the spy service believed the label to be inaccurate. 

CSIS concluded “unsophisticated acts of illegal interference,” like blockades and vandalism, “don’t cross the terrorism threshold.”

CSIS added, nevertheless, that it believed rail disruptions could nonetheless be linked to “extremist components” inside the Indigenous rights and environmental actions and different “ideologically motivated violent extremist” teams, like anarchists.

Hereditary chief involved about continued surveillance

Na’moks, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief who opposes development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern British Columbia, is glad CSIS backed off from the terrorist label.

But he worries that by branding components of First Nations rights actions as “extremist,” CSIS leaves the door open to continued surveillance.

“We know we have been underneath fixed surveillance for a long time,” mentioned Na’moks, whose English title is John Ridsdale.

“I’m very glad that they mentioned it may well’t be achieved, however in public opinion if they label us extremists, then they get to do as they want.”

Na’moks, a hereditary chief with the Wet’suwet’en Nation who additionally goes by John Ridsdale, says he is involved CSIS monitoring will proceed though it determined the terrorism label could not be utilized. (Dan Mesec)

Hereditary chiefs have been pushing to have Wet’suwet’en jurisdiction acknowledged over the nation’s unceded, off-reserve territory for a long time. While they oppose the Coastal GasLink venture, 5 of six Wet’suwet’en bands have signed on in help.

There have been two separate incidents of sabotage and vandalism within the space this yr. One focused Coastal GasLink development tools whereas the opposite noticed emergency response autos, together with RCMP cruisers tasked with policing resistance to the pipeline, torched.

Police have but to call suspects.

Na’moks mentioned the chiefs condemn such techniques however he does marvel whether or not these occasions symbolize the kind of factor CSIS will cite to justify ongoing surveillance.

“As hereditary chiefs, we’d by no means condone any kind of violence. The violence comes at us,” he mentioned.

“We will proceed to do what we do non-violently, peacefully, and I do know we’re doing the proper factor.”

‘They must look within the mirror’

The CSIS assessments present these two standoffs in southern Ontario and northern B.C. respectively have been the first drivers of the spy service’s issues.

In February 2020, protests focusing on railways popped as much as present help after B.C. Mounties executed a raid on blockades stopping Coastal GasLink pipeline development. In Caledonia, activists twice shut down CN tracks in response to Ontario Provincial Police makes an attempt to clear the 1492 Land Back Lane occupation.

Andrew Brant, who’s Mohawk, Turtle Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, supported the solidarity demonstrations in his neighborhood in 2020.

He mentioned turning blockades into nationwide safety problems with extremism and terrrorism ignores centuries of treaty-making and alliances between the Mohawk Nation and the Crown.

Tyendinaga member Andrew Brant supported the solidarity motion in his neighborhood in 2020. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

He believes CSIS’s monitoring of Wet’suwet’en and Mohawk activism is “all about villainizing individuals” who resist useful resource extraction and oppose colonial insurance policies.

“They have extracted a lot from us: our ladies, our kids, our land, our assets, our languages, our cultures. Everything. And then they need to flip round and name us excessive for desirous to exist,” mentioned Brant.

“To label us as extremists? I believe they should look within the mirror.”

Surveillance ‘a horrible factor’ to get used to

CSIS mentioned it would not examine lawful protest or democratic dissent, or touch upon any of its operations.

The spy service mentioned individuals with issues about CSIS’s actions have the power to lodge complaints with the watchdog National Security Intelligence Review Agency.

For Williams, life underneath surveillance is “a horrible factor” to get used to.

He was charged criminally and can stand trial for his function within the Caledonia occupation. He just lately pleaded responsible to felony contempt of courtroom in connection to a different spherical of blockades in help of the Wet’suwet’en chiefs in northern B.C. in November 2021.

At the time, officers at Crown-Indigenous Relations have been monitoring Williams’s actions through social media to temporary senior bureaucrats, inside paperwork present.

He mentioned it is the Canadian state that makes use of violent and excessive techniques to repress Indigenous individuals.

Logan Staats, left, and Skyler Williams, proper, march in Smithers, B.C., with Wet’suwet’en leaders in November 2021. Staats and Williams are each from Six Nations of the Grand River. (Submitted by Skyler Williams)

Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaw lawyer and professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, agrees.

She has filed federal access-to-information requests for her personal safety file, solely to obtain paperwork censored for nationwide safety causes.

She mentioned colonial authorities in Canada have a historical past of labelling First Nations individuals as irrational and doubtlessly violent.

“It’s racist stereotyping that began since contact, all the time portraying us as harmful, villains, violent, savage — you title it,” mentioned Palmater.

“Now the trendy terminology, if it isn’t zealot or militant or home terrorist, it is extremist.”

But First Nations-led activism, even through blockades and occupations, poses no actual nationwide safety risk, Palmater mentioned. Rather, like Brant, she feels this surveillance comes from politically motivated needs to clamp down on resistance.

“If we’re threats to nationwide safety, take into consideration how deeply ingrained this vilification of Indigenous peoples is,” mentioned Palmater.

“I believe that is about attempting to silence individuals.”


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