Harper government’s extensive spying on anti-oilsands groups revealed in FOIs
Independent federal agency, National Energy Board, directly coordinated effort between CSIS, the RCMP and private oil companies.
The federal government has been vigorously spying on anti-oil sands activists and organizations in BC and across Canada since last December, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show. Not only is the federal government subsidizing the energy industry in underwriting their costs, but deploying public safety resources as a de-facto ‘insurance policy’ to ensure that federal strategies on proposed pipeline projects are achieved, these documents indicate.
Before the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel hearings on the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline, the NEB coordinated the gathering of intelligence on opponents to the oil sands. The groups of interest are independent advocacy organizations that oppose the Harper government’s policies and work for environmental protections and democratic rights, including Idle No More, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, EcoSociety, LeadNow, Dogwood Initiative, Council of Canadians and the People’s Summit.
Mandated as an ‘independent federal agency’, the NEB directed the police protection of their board members and officials from Enbridge and TransCanada Corporation, 140 pages of emails from December 2012 through April 2013 show.
In the emails, Richard “Rick” Garber, the NEB’s “Group Leader of Security”, marshals security and intelligence operations between government agencies and private interests, and says in a January 31, 2013 email that the NEB “Security Team has consulted today with Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) at national and regional levels; RCMP at national, regional and local levels.”
"The Security Team, together with our police and intelligence partners, will continue to monitor all sources of information and intelligence," he says.
The documents show the NEB working with CSIS and the RCMP to make “security plans” for the Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Prince Rupert hearings and actively coordinating with officials from Enbridge and TransCanada Corporation and a private security contractor hired by the NEB.
They also show Garber asking Sgt. Steinhammer of the Prince Rupert RCMP to provide a visible uniformed presence during the hearings there to deter “illegal activities.”
Sustained opposition to pipelines noted, especially in BC
On April 20, 2013, an email entitled “Security Concerns - National Energy Board” was sent to integrated security officials, and stressed the continued protection of NEB and private interests. The memo was from Tim O’Neil, Senior Criminal Intelligence Research Specialist with the RCMP, and then circulated to the NEB and associated stakeholders by Garber.
"There continues to be sustained opposition to the Canadian petroleum and pipeline industry," O’Neil said. "Opposition is most notable in British Columbia, with protests focused on the: Enbridge Northern Gateway; Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion; the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing, and proposed LNG facilities. Opponents have used a variety of protest actions (directed at the NEB and its members) to draw attention to the oil sands’ negative environmental impact, with the ultimate goal of forcing the shutdown of the Canadian petroleum industry."
O’Neil then ordered the escalation of RCMP and CSIS intelligence measures following the opening of an SPROS/SIR database file. According to the Government of Canada, SPROS is the new National Security Program’s primary database for the electronic storage, retrieval and management of national security criminal investigations and information, and on a required basis, classified criminal intelligence and other sensitive cases.
"It is highly likely that the NEB may expect to receive threats to its hearings and its board members," O’Neil, said. However, in the same memo he states that there is "no intelligence indicating a criminal threat to the NEB or its members" and "I could not detect a direct or specific criminal threat."
In closing, O’Neill advises recipients to discuss their concerns with the security officials at the National Resources May 23rd classified briefing.
"What is particularly chilling about the Harper administration’s approach is the conversion of government agencies to private spy agencies for private sector corporations," Green Party Leader, Elizabeth May said, upon learning about the emails. "What is unacceptable is the marginalization, demonizing, and threat of criminalization of healthy debate in a democracy."
On May 23, 2013, Natural Resources Canada hosted a ‘Classified Briefing for Energy & Utilities Sector Stakeholders’ in collaboration with CSIS and the RCMP at CSIS’s headquarters in Ottawa.
The briefing has occurred twice annually since 2005 and its stated purpose is to discuss national security and criminal risks to critical energy infrastructure. Attendees include government officials, federal ministries, law enforcement agencies and energy stakeholders with high-level security clearances. These meetings have been described as an opportunity for government officials and companies to exchange information “off the record” and form “ongoing trusting relationships” in the protection of national energy infrastructure.
An agenda obtained by Tim Groves and Martin Lukacs at The Guardian last month revealed that breakfast, lunch and coffee was sponsored by Enbridge and a networking reception held at the Chateau Laurier was co-hosted by Bruce Power and Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners. Meetings during this conference included “challenges to energy projects by environmental groups.”
Given proof of CSIS and RCMP intelligence resources being afforded to the NEB, and evidence of disclosure across the private sector, it is undetermined how much information is being provided to corporations such as Enbridge and TransCanada Corporation, and to what extent international entities such as CNOOC are also benefiting.
Since coming to power, Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, has used his government apparatus to serve a natural resources development agenda, the Guardian recently wrote, “while creating sweeping domestic surveillance programs that have kept close tabs on indigenous and environmental opposition and shared intelligence with companies.
"Harper has transformed Canada’s foreign policy to offer full diplomatic backing to foreign mining and oil projects, tying aid pledges to their advancement and jointly funding ventures with companies throughout Africa, South America and Asia.”
The National Energy Board has no spying mandate, according to its website, but serves to function as a regulatory agency over the gas and oil industry, answering to Parliament and the Canadian people.
Correction: a previous version of the article attributed the May 22, 2013 agenda to have been obtained by the CBC. It was obtained by The Guardian and provided to CBC afterward.
Canada’s top spy watchdog lobbying for Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline
Chuck Strahl, Chairman of the federal body which oversees Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has registered to lobby on behalf of Enbridge’s ‘Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership’.
Strahl’s registration declares that he is targeting B.C.’s Minister of Natural Gas Development, Rich Coleman, to arrange a meeting with representatives from Northern Gateway Pipelines on the subject of “Energy”. Strahl stated that he is lobbying on their behalf until June 2014.
"I do some contract work for Enbridge," Strahl told the Vancouver Observer. "I’ve registered just in case I arrange a meeting, but no meetings to report".
Strahl is a former Conservative Member of Parliament for the B.C. riding of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon and was first elected in 1993. While in federal government, Strahl served as Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Minister of Transport and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.
Strahl retired from politics in 2011 and was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to head the non-partisan and independent Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) on June 14, 2012 for a five-year term. He also serves as Director and Chairman of the Conservative party’s Manning Centre, an organization “dedicated to building Canada’s conservative movement”.
Strahl replaced disgraced Chairman Dr. Arthur Porter, who is currently in a Panamanian jail facing a range of charges from money laundering, to taking kickbacks and conspiracy to commit fraud while acting as a middleman for SNC-Lavalin and other private business interests.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee reports to Parliament on all activities undertaken by CSIS – and with the exception of cabinet secrets, Strahl’s position affords access to all intelligence gathered by the organization.
Strahl’s move to represent Enbridge confounds prior assertions which downplayed the circumstantial relationships between CSIS, its oversight committee and the private sector. Former CSIS Assistant Director Ray Boisvert said at one point to the Vancouver Observer that “there is no collaboration between intelligence organizations and private industry. That is against the law”. Boisvert retired from CSIS in 2012 and is currently a security consultant in the private sector.
However, documents published by The Vancouver Observer in November 2013 revealed the extent to which the Harper government, CSIS and the RCMP monitored activists and organizations who opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project. At the same time, CSIS and the RCMP were cooperating with the private sector by holding ‘Classified Briefings for Energy and Utilities Sector Stakeholders’ at CSIS’s headquarters in Ottawa.
The May 23, 2013 ‘classified briefing’ was sponsored by Enbridge and brought together federal agencies, spies, and private industry stakeholders with high level security clearances – which included officials from energy companies in the oil, natural gas, pipeline, petroleum refinery and electricity sectors.
Strahl’s registration for lobbying activities on behalf of Enbridge raise questions about conflicts-of-interest and ethics, lobbying legislation and also the collusion of private interests within Canada’s security apparatus.
“What Stephen Harper has essentially done is to take the spy agencies of the federal government of Canada and put them at the service of private companies like Enbridge,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in November.
Strahl is listed as Consultant with ‘Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc.’ since 2011 and his duties are to “develop and provide communications, strategic and government relations advice to corporations, governments and NGOs”.
As a former minister, Strahl is a ‘Designated Public Office Holder’ under the federal Lobbying Act and is prohibited from lobbying the Government of Canada for a five year period post-employment. He is also required to declare his prior status as an MP in the lobbyist registry.
Strahl did not declare in his B.C. registration that he held federal public office from 1993 to 2011, as the provincial Lobbyists Registration Act only applies to previous officers of the B.C. government. He is not restricted from lobbying the province of British Columbia on behalf of Enbridge or other interests.
Strahl previously stated that he “won’t lobby” governments and has never done so, according to a story by Brian Hutchinson in the National Post following Strahl’s appointment to the Security Intelligence Review Committee in 2012.
However, a B.C. lobbying registration from December 2011 states: “Charles Strahl, a consultant lobbyist with Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc, is arranging meetings on behalf of his client, Cascade Aerospace Inc, with the Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Innovation (and/or his staff)”.
In the same interview, he said that he “has a system of ‘double make-sure’ to protect himself and the public from conflicts of interest and questions around ethics”. In the event a problem does arise he said that he would “call up ethics commissioner (Mary Dawson) and consult her”, also stating that he spoke with her when he was offered the SIRC appointment.
Strahl’s son, Mark, is currently the Member of Parliament for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon.
Strahl also maintains close ties to the current B.C. government.
His former federal Chief of Staff, Laurie Throness was newly elected as MLA for Chilliwack-Hope in the 2013 provincial election.
In financial disclosures published last month, Throness declared income from consulting fees for Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc. Throness is a member of the provincial cabinet under Premier Christy Clark and serves as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Corrections.
In 2013, Strahl was publicly thanked by Christy Clark for his assistance in helping during her provincial election campaign. At a media event, Clark said that Strahl is an example of a retired federal politician who is “very actively helping us on this campaign and I’m really proud of the contribution (he’s) making”.
The acknowledgement raised immediate questions given his position as SIRC chair, with Clark clarifying her statement on the record the following day to protect his necessarily impartial relationships as Canada’s top spy watchdog.
Chuck Strahl resigns as Canada’s top spy watchdog
"Please accept this letter as formal notice of my decision to step down as Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee."
With that, Chuck Strahl stepped down as Canada’s top spy watchdog.
The embattled head of SIRC came under heavy scrutiny after the Vancouver Observer broke the story on Jan. 4 that Strahl had as a lobbyist for Enbridge Northern Gateway.
After further research, Strahl was found to have done contract work for Enbridge since 2011, and APTN news found that he had also registered in Alberta as a lobbyist for an Frog Lake Energy Resources Corp (FLERC), energy company with financial ties to China.
Only earlier this week, the CEO of FLERC dismissed the controversy as a "tempest in a teapot", but things boiled over with Strahl’s resignation.
Strahl defended his conduct, saying he had “fully compliant with all relevant rules and regulations, and have affirmed that all of my post-political activities were consistently appropriate and above board.”
He said he had contacted the ethics commissioner’s office on numerous occasions to give updates about his lobbying, and the office had always cleared him of conflict of interest.
But Strahl had registered to lobby for the Enbridge Northern Gateway only a month after news that Canada’s main spy agency, CSIS, coordinated with the RCMP and the National Energy Board to spy on pipeline criticsduring the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings. Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair urged Strahl to quit his lobbying for Enbridge or his work as the chair of Canada’s spy oversight agency.
"Despite the fact that my compliance with all relevant rules and regulations has been clearly demonstrated, I retired from politics three years ago and do not wish to be in the centre of the political fray," Strahl wrote.
"Nor do I want to be a distraction from the important work SIRC does everyday in ensuring the security of Canadians."
Read the full letter text.
The latest Climate Desk Live asked if pipeline opponents picked the wrong battle—and if that even matters.
| Wed Apr. 24, 2013 1:55 PM PDT
The protestors and organizers surrounding Keystone XL have often been criticized for picking the wrong fight by focusing on a pipeline that is unlikely to be defeated and, some claim, won’t significantly increase global carbon emissions. The activists argue back that the fight is important as a galvanizing battle, and that when it comes to wanton burning of fossil fuels, it’s simply time to take a stand.
Against this backdrop, the panel took up the question of what the impact this movement could have on the broader push for limiting carbon emissions. On that, everyone agreed that the notion that the Keystone XL protests will have any one clear effect, whether good or bad, is far too simplistic. The movement’s impact echo in complex ways—perhaps backfiring in some respects yet promoting progress in others. Caught up in the moment as we all are, we can’t fully say—but for that very reason, how sure are we that we can criticize?