CSIS deems rail blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders as acts of “ideologically motivated violent extremists”
Twitter photo of blockade in Toronto, February 8, 2020. This took place during the RCMP militarized raid against Wet’suwet’en land defenders, February 6-10, 2020.
CBC reports: “Canada’s civilian spy service assessed whether First Nations land rights activists who disrupt trains should be classed as a ‘terrorist threat’ to national security alongside the likes of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, according to declassified documents.”
The 40-page counterterror briefing references both Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests and the 1492 Land Back Lane re-occupation of Mohawk lands in southern Ontario.
The article continues: “But the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) eventually decided the label wouldn’t stick after probing the issue in secret, internal studies whose findings were shared with government officials in an unclassified March 2021 counterterror briefing.”
Their Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) document says: “Unsophisticated acts of unlawful interference [like blockades] do not cross the terrorism threshold.”
The CBC adds: “While not quite terrorists, the documents indicate CSIS labels First Nations activists and allies who engage in blockades as ‘ideologically motivated violent extremists’, and thus potential national security threats who warrant state surveillance.”
Jeffrey Monaghan, an associate professor of criminology at Carleton University, says: “We’ve expanded the war on terror so broadly that Indigenous rights activists are being scrutinized as potential terrorists. …Their willingness to just almost skate over the actual political grievance, the actual political movement, and all of a sudden latch on to these de-legitimizing tropes really paints a picture internally of the policing-intelligence culture that does not take Indigenous affairs seriously.”
The crucial role of environmental defenders
The UN Emissions Gap Report 2022 now says there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place”. The Guardian highlights: “The report found that existing carbon-cutting policies would cause 2.8C of warming, while pledged policies cut this to 2.6C.” The world has warmed nearly 1.2C since the start of the Industrial Revolution and already faces increasingly ferocious climate-enhanced weather extremes like heatwaves, storms and floods.
In contrast to the failure of States to address climate change, this report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International found that resistance by Indigenous land defenders, water protectors and allies on Turtle Island “has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions [1.587 billion metric tons CO2e].”
We also recall that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has repeatedly called on Canada to stop the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline and “that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and associated security and policing services will be withdrawn from [Wet’suwet’en] traditional lands.”
The Committee monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which Canada is a signatory.
The IACHR on blockades
In June 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a visit to Colombia to report on possible human rights violations in relation to the national strike at that time. It issued this report the following month.
Their report cautions that: “The Commission considers that the absolute prohibition of any blockade … could constitute a disproportionate restriction to freedom of expression, demonstration and assembly.”
And the report further highlighted: “In the current Colombian context, it is noted that the generic official rating of the blockages as illegal behaviors can lose sight of the specificities of each particular roadblock, as well as affecting the possibility of reaching solutions negotiated through dialogue and mediation.”
The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), which Canada joined in 1990.
UK Supreme Court
And in June 2021, The Guardian reported: “Four demonstrators who formed a blockade outside a London arms fair have had their convictions quashed by the supreme court, in what has been hailed as an affirmation of the right to protest.”
Two members of the court stated: “There should be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly.”
Naomi Klein, Global Witness
Canadian author Naomi Klein has also commented: “Blockadia is a term that was first coined by activists fighting the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. People tried to stop it with their bodies. And they called their camps Blockadia.”
Klein adds: “Blockadia is really this transnational space, roving space, where regular people [particularly Indigenous peoples] are stepping in where our leaders are failing, and they are trying to stop this era of extreme extraction.”
And the London, UK-based human rights organization Global Witness has highlighted governments should “safeguard the rights of defenders and protesters to free assembly and speech, as well as potential recourse to civil disobedience.”
We continue to follow this.