Canadian-government owned TMX pipeline company surveillance of Secwepemc land defenders raises human rights concerns

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by Kanahus Manuel.

On July 23, Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel tweeted: “Tmx private security hired to do security on me all day, they have been posted outside my home since 6 am.”

The Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) is a Canadian government owned entity. The Canadian government bought the existing pipeline for $4.5 billion in May 2018 and is spending an estimated $12.6 billion on its expansion.

If completed it would move 890,000 barrels of oil per day across unceded Secwepemc territory without their free, prior and informed consent.

Front Line Defenders

The Dublin-based human rights organization Front Line Defenders has noted: “While surveillance is increasingly carried out electronically, in many countries human rights defenders continue to report physical surveillance. This may include unknown individuals patrolling their office or home…”

It cautions: “While in some cases the purpose of surveillance is to know what human rights defenders are working on, it may also be an indication of potential physical targeting…”

Derechos Digitales

The Latin American organization Derechos Digitales has also highlighted: “Mere availability of low cost surveillance technology, or its offer by a vendor, does not justify acquisition or deployment.” As such, this implies that the relatively low cost of an HD video camera does not justify its use.

Derechos Digitales adds: “The excuse [for surveillance] is often the need to ensure public safety, or the efficiency of policing systems. However, these technologies are increasingly invasive, and can adversely affect fundamental rights.”

It also cautions: “Any private or public entity considering or carrying out the development or acquisition of surveillance technologies must be legally required to perform a prior human rights impact assessment, involving experts in technology, social sciences, fundamental rights, among others. Benefits, costs, impacts, and mitigating measures must be considered too.”

UN General Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly has also recognized the impacts of technologies on the work of human rights defenders.

In December 2015, it adopted Resolution 70/161 that calls upon all States to ensure that: “Information and communications technologies are not used in a manner that amounts to arbitrary or unlawful interference with the privacy of individuals or the intimidation of human rights defenders.”

Furthermore, along with concerns about surveillance, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has also called on Canada to stop the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline until it secures the free, prior and informed consent of the Secwepemc peoples.

Interference with land defenders

We add our concern about the stigmatization, interference and intimidation involved in the surveillance and monitoring of Secwepemc land defenders. We further question whether the Canadian government-owned TMX corporation has conducted a human rights assessment on its actions in this regard.

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