Government orders federal departments to keep tabs on all demonstrations across country

The federal government is expanding its surveillance of public activities to include all known demonstrations across the country, a move that collects information even on the most mundane of protests by Canadians.

The email requesting such information was sent out Tuesday by the Government Operations Centre in Ottawa to all federal departments.

“The Government Operations Centre is seeking your assistance in compiling a comprehensive listing of all known demonstrations which will occur either in your geographical area or that may touch on your mandate,” noted the email, leaked to the Citizen. “We will compile this information and make this information available to our partners unless of course, this information is not to be shared and not available on open sources. In the case of the latter, this information will only be used by the GOC for our Situational Awareness.”

The Government Operations Centre or GOC is supposed to provide strategic-level coordination on behalf of the federal government “in response to an emerging or occurring event affecting the national interest.”

It assesses the requirement for developing plans to prevent or deal with emergencies such as pandemics, earthquakes, forest fires and floods. It also monitors overseas situations such as the 2011 crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

But the Government Operations Centre has also been involved, as an intelligence clearing house, in compiling information on Aboriginal protesters. Tuesday’s email, however, significantly expands its surveillance activities to include all demonstrations by any person or group.

Wesley Wark, an intelligence specialist at the University of Ottawa, said such an order is illegal. “The very nature of the blanket request and its unlimited scope I think puts it way over the line in terms of lawful activity,” said Wark. “I think it’s a clear breach of our Charter rights.”

Wark said the only lawful way a Canadian government agency, with the appropriate mandate, would have to monitor a demonstration would be if that agency could establish that the protest would constitute some kind of threat to civil order.

“But it has to be specific and it has to be justifiable in law to mount such surveillance,” he added.

Wark also questioned why the Government Operations Centre would issue such an order. It is mandated to assess incoming information about emergencies and threats to the security of Canada but it doesn’t have a legal mandate to issue directions, he added.

Jean Paul Duval, a spokesman for Public Safety Canada, noted in an email that “such requests for information fall within the mandate of the Government Operations Centre which facilitates information-sharing for potential and ongoing events with other federal departments, provinces and territories, and its partners through regular analysis and reporting.”

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, the party’s public safety critic, said the order appears to be a continuation of the Conservative government’s efforts to keep track of Canadians who might disagree with government policy.

“Demonstrations, as long as they are peaceful, are part of a healthy democracy,” Easter said. “This is the kind of tactics you would see in a dictatorship.”

The GOC was created in 2004 by Public Safety Canada. It is connected with the operations centres of 20 federal departments and agencies, as well as with those of the provinces and territories, and other countries, including the United States.

NDP MP Paul Dewar said the email is part of what he sees as a disturbing pattern on the part of government to increase its collection of information on the public. “This government is turning into Big Brother,” said Dewar. “This is clearly out of bounds from what GOC is supposed to do.”

Last year the Government Operations Centre was involved in coordinating a response to Aboriginal demonstrations against fracking. The GOC distributed a map of the area where the RCMP had conducted raids on protesters who had seized an oil company’s vehicles. It also produced a spreadsheet detailing 32 planned events in support of anti-fracking.

Those included a healing dance in Kenora, Ont., a prayer ceremony in Edmonton and an Idle No More “taco fundraiser, raffle and jam session” planned at the Native Friendship Centre in Barrie, Ont., according to documents obtained through the Access to Information Act by APTN National News.


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