The Ottawa Police Service Security Intelligence Section and the shrinking of civil society space for protest and dissent

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Family and supporters march in Ottawa in October 2020 following the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the police killing of Abdirahman Abdi.

Peace Brigades International accompanies threatened human rights defenders and monitors the shrinking of civil society spaces around the world. The Transnational Institute has defined shrinking space as “a metaphor that has been widely embraced as a way of describing a new generation of restrictions on political struggle.”

One form of restriction is political bias and stigmatization.

The University of York has explained: “Stigmatisation tactics often draw upon nationalist, religious, homophobic, patriarchal, racist, and/or xenophobic sentiments in society to cast defenders in negative light.” In the context of Colombia, Front Line Defenders has called on the police “to refrain from stigmatizing the work of human rights defenders”.

What does this look like in Ottawa?

CTV has reported: “A report from the [Ottawa Police Service] Security Intelligence Section, dated January 25 [2022] and authored by Sergeant Chris Kiez said the [Freedom Convoy truck protest] was ‘less a professional protest with the usual sad players, but rather a truly organic grass roots event that is gathering momentum.’”

Press Progress further notes: “The report describes other protests as ‘repetitive’ with the ‘same players, same chants,’ mocking left-wing activists who ‘glue themselves to something, waiting for the same old supper hour news shows and write-ups in hard-left handbills, blogs and undernourished Twitter feeds.’”

That article adds: “In the intelligence report, Ottawa Police [deride] left-wing community activists as ‘professional activists’ singling out one activist by name who has been critical of Ottawa Police in local media.”

It then quotes the Ottawa Police Service intelligence report that says: “The [Freedom Convoy] protests globally are made up almost entirely of middle-class members of society. Since the so-called ‘silent majority’ is numerically much larger than the professional activists, such as local Sam Hersch can order up.”

Hersh, an organizer with Horizon Ottawa, has responded: “It’s very disturbing but not surprising to see that the Ottawa Police are targeting particular individuals for their activism around police accountability. This puts into question their neutrality when it comes to things like the police budget and whether they are deliberately targeting left wing activists.”

Carleton University professor Stephanie Carvin, a former Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) intelligence analyst, comments: “The threat assessments are not threat assessments. They are strange editorial positions.”

She adds: “This person (Kiez) is effectively saying look, these are white middle class people, they’re not going to engage in the kind of demonstrations that we’ve seen with Black Lives Matter or Indigenous protesters.”

Press Progress now reports that the Ottawa Police Service has confirmed that its Professional Standards Section is “reviewing” social media comments allegedly made by Kiez that include him referring to teachers as “the most vile of the left-marxist set”.

While former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly says he had not read the intelligence report, he did recently testify: “Sgt. Chris Kiez is one of our best intelligence operators, I had an opportunity to interact with him quite a bit when I was at the police service.”

Notably, the Security Intelligence Section is not listed on the Ottawa Police Service “Sections and Units” page, but elsewhere on the OPS website they do note: “Our Security Intelligence Section has the responsibility for monitoring trends and issues that can lead to local incidents of hate and extremism in Ottawa.”

To read more from the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute on the global concern of shrinking “political space to organize, to operate, to have a legitimate voice, to protest and to dissent”, please click here.

Photo: Ottawa police officers filming the #EveryChildMatters walk, July 1, 2021.

Photo: Ottawa police surveillance van parked next to Wet’suwet’en solidarity rally near Parliament Hill, February 2020.

Related reading: Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) deems rail blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders as acts of “ideologically motivated violent extremists” and New Ottawa police chief oversaw the arrests of Wet’suwet’en land defenders opposing megaproject that lacks consent.

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