Authorities continue to use surveillance, threats of deregistration against civil society


The Canada Revenue Agency has informed Environmental Defence Canada, a small environment group which opposes the government's pipeline policies, that it plans to revoke the group's charitable status because it is too political. The Toronto-based charity has attempted to appeal the decision but without success, having already spent up to 500,000 Canadian dollars in legal fees contesting an audit in early 2012. Environmental Defence was in the first wave of charities audited — most of them environmental groups — after several cabinet ministers publicly vilified them as "terrorists" and "money launderers" for opposing the government's energy and pipeline policies.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have been targeting and compiling information about indigenous activists who allegedly pose a 'criminal threat to Aboriginal public order events.' The RCMP reportedly made confidential activist profiles of 89 protestors, which were distributed to front-line officers, analysts and other law enforcement agencies through two police databases. The police categorised each protestor on the list as either 'passive (law-abiding), disruptive (law-resisting) or volatile (violence-prone)'. The RCMP’s work, dubbed Project SITKA, was criticised by numerous human rights organisations as a gross overstep of power. Andy Crosby, a researcher who obtained the RCMP report under an Access to Information request, warned that:

'This raises ongoing concerns surrounding the blurring of indigenous land defence and environmental protests as domestic extremism and eco-terrorism, even if the RCMP wants to move beyond using this language.'

In a press release published on 9th November, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) said:

'The background document for SITKA describes the project as an attempt to identify the 3-5% of protesters who might cause property damage or economic loss. Innocent advocates were investigated and catalogued based on little more than a perceived potential threat that their expression might pose to the state. Despite law enforcement surveillance requiring a reasonable suspicion for criminal activity, the RCMP unreasonably targeted citizens affiliated with groups, political movements, ideologies and forms of expression that are protected. This reckless program was undertaken without reasonable grounds and in violation of the Charter-protected rights to free expression and privacy.'

Peaceful Assembly

On 29th November, protestors gathered in Vancouver after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The expansion will allow the pipeline to carry more crude oil and tar sands to the port of Burnaby, British Columbia where it is exported in supertankers. Environmental campaigners oppose the expansion because of the potentially devastating affects on public health and the environment in the event of an oil spill. Speakers warned that Trudeau’s announcement would spark confrontations similar to those in Standing Rock in North Dakota which oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. In an act of solidarity with whe Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, on 5th December protestors shut down a Highway 401 overpass in Ontario.

On 19th November, up to a thousand people rallied in Toronto against US president-elect Trump, and clashed with a smaller group of Trump supporters. Toronto police confirmed one arrest was made at the rally.

Meanwhile an activist is facing legal consequences as a result of her participation in a protest. FEMEN activist Neda Topaloski is currently on trial on charges of 'mischief' and 'disturbing the peace' following her arrest while protesting bare-chested during the 2015 Montreal Grand Prix. Along with other FEMEN activists, Topaloski was protesting against sexual tourism, which doubles or even triples each time the Grand Prix is held. On its website, FEMEN describes itself as 'an international women’s movement of brave topless female activists.' On 30th November Topaloski’s lawyer moved to have the charges dismissed on the grounds that her arrest was unlawful, citing 'excessive use of force.' According to Topaloski herself,

'We’re in Canada and there’s no precedent for such cases. Our bodies are our banners for our values and ideas. It’s the first time there is an attempt to criminalize them. [...] Seeing activism as disturbance of peace is absolutely perverse, because expression doesn’t trouble peace, violence troubles peace.'


On December 1st the Ontario provincial legislature passed a motion condemning the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The declaration was criticised by leading human rights groups, who said this was an infringement of organisations’ freedom of expression and protest. In an email sent on 30th November, the Ontario Civil Liberties Association condemned the proposal as an attack on free speech and urged the members of the Provincial Parliament of Ontario to vote against it:

'Mrs. Martow's motion would use the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to denigrate an international citizens' social movement. [...] We are not asking you to support BDS. We ask you to recognize, protect, and advance the right of individual Ontarians to choose for themselves which social movements they will endorse, including BDS.'

Additionally, more than two dozen civil society organisations across North America have expressed support for Google’s challenge of a court judgment from 2015, which sought to censor search results beyond Canada’s borders. Human Rights Watch submitted a brief to Canada’s Supreme Court, urging it to adopt a wider lens in considering the case, amid concerns of a 'global chilling effect.' Fifteen media organisations, including the Associated Press, also submitted briefs to the court. They are backing Google’s argument against censorship of search links, driven by concerns that any precedent established could be used to target content providers as well.