The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is taking the RCMP in front of a judge for its alleged failure to respond to allegations of spying on groups and organizations and First Nations opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
The suit, filed in Federal Court in Ottawa against the force Nov. 9, names the federal attorney general and B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general and further alleges information gathered was improperly shared with oil companies and the National Energy Board.
“It is disgraceful that we have to sue the RCMP to secure the release of a watchdog report into the RCMP’s own conduct,” BCCLA executive director Harsha Walia said.
“At a time when there is public outrage about the expansive powers of the police and continuing racist criminalization of Indigenous land defenders, the egregious delay in handling our police complaint shines a light on the inefficacy of civilian oversight over the RCMP.
“Where is the Prime Minister’s promised enhanced civilian oversight over the RCMP?” Walia asked.
The suit alleges the BCCLA in 2014 filed a complaint about the activities with the Civilian Complaints and Review Commission for the RCMP, alleging their groups’ constitutional rights had been violated by the alleged surveillance.
RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Caroline Duval said the surveillance was part of Project SITKA.
It was “designed to specifically separate individuals for whom there was an objective means to demonstrate criminal and violent intentions from those who simply wanted to engage in legitimate protest,” Duval said.“The RCMP did not specifically target Indigenous protestors,” Duval said. “The RCMP collects and analyses information as it relates to criminal activity and public safety, regardless of ethnicity, and prepares assessments to inform RCMP management about emerging threats.”
And, Duval said, “Project SITKA is now concluded.”
However, the suit claims, the commission has not issued a final report as RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has yet to file a response to the commission’s interim report. The suit said no final report can be issued without that response.
So, what the suit seeks is a court declaration that the commissioner has breached her duty under the RCMP Act and also seeks an order that Lucki respond.
The suit said the BCCLA received a letter from Lucki Aug. 7 saying she had committed to respond to the review commission within 90 days.
In September, the BCCLA again questioned where the response was. Lucki responded one would be provided by Nov. 7.
“The RCMP commissioner failed to meet this simple commitment,” the suit said.
“The RCMP commissioner should not be allowed to frustrate the statutory complaint process simply by sitting on a report for years on end,” the suit said.
Duval said Nov. 7 was the force’s initial response target date but further time was needed with a new target for November’s end.
“The time required to prepare a thorough and well founded response can be difficult to predict due to the high number of interim reports, the numerous factors to consider, the high volume of relevant material to be reviewed and the complexities of the recommendations and findings,” Duval said.
Moreover, she said, the RCMP has acknowledged the delays to the review commission.
“The [RCMP] commissioner has committed to making significant improvements and doubling the number of personnel responsible for review and analysis,” Duval said.
“The BCCLA has waited over 6 years for a response to its complaint into RCMP spying activities,” BCCLA lawyer Paul Champ said. “The RCMP Commissioner should not be allowed to effectively sabotage the civilian watchdog complaint process simply by sitting on a report for years on end. Commissioner Lucki’s failure to respond to the report is a denial of the BCCLA’s constitutional rights and impacts public confidence in the complaint process.”
The same groups in 2019 alleged the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has also spied on the groups, with information going to industry. Among them was Indigenous rights advocate Clayton Thomas-Müller. A complaint against CSIS was also filed in 2014 but was dealt with behind closed doors and participants put under a gag order.
“Being under police and security surveillance has caused harm to my family relationships, and I and others have paid a high price to support frontline Indigenous nations and fight for Indigenous rights and climate justice,” he said.
“The RCMP’s surveillance must be exposed, but we are still waiting to receive the report into their spying activities,” Thomas-Müller said. “This is a slap in the face of Canadian democracy and the legal nation-to-nation relationship between us as Indigenous peoples and Canada.”
B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it could not comment on a matter before the courts while the Department of Justice Canada referred inquiries to the RCMP.