Why are the RCMP so afraid of enviro activists?

A leaked RCMP report linking “violent environmental extremists” to a perceived terrorist threat to the country’s oil and gas industry is alarming, but far from surprising. 

The RCMP have been providing unnamed oil and gas industry sources with weekly intelligence reports on their surveillance of activists, particularly in Indigenous communities, since at least 2007.  

Since that time, public support for communities most affected by oil and gas exploration, has spread across the country. This is the real “threat” to industry – not a “violent” or “extremist” environmental movement, as the report suggests, but a growing understanding of First Nations’ rights to protect their land and health, from Unist’ot’en territory in Northern B.C., to Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia.

Sixty-three petrochemical refineries surround Aamjiwnaang First Nation reservation near Sarnia. The southwestern Ontario city and First Nation community is considered the most polluted place in North America by the World Health Organization.

The Aamjiwnaang is the first human population documented to experience endocrine disruption from pollution, resulting in a ratio of two females born for every male on the reserve. Forty per cent of band members require an inhaler to breath, while 39 per cent of the women in Aamjiwnaang have suffered through at least one stillbirth or miscarriage.

Back in 2013, a 13-day blockade halted activity on a rail line servicing the refineries, significantly impacting these companies’ operations. 

Appearing before a judge, Sarnia police chief Phil Nelson defended his decision not to forcefully remove the protestors, explaining that, “I worry about people, have compassion for them, and have never in my career been through a situation where the pressure to resolve something peacefully is so great, because the other option is scary.”

The “other option” he was referring to was a repeat of the killing of Dudley George, an Anishnabek activist who was shot by the Ontario Provincial Police during a 1995 land rights protest at nearby Ipperwash provincial park. A public inquiry into George’s death lay blame on the OPP and the government of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, leading to a reform of OPP engagement policies with First Nations.

These new engagement policies were not adopted by the RCMP on October 17, 2013, when they showed up with guns, Tasers, and dogs to break up a widely-supported, First Nations-led anti-fracking blockade in Rexton, New Brunswick. Instead, officers attacked protesters with rubber bullets and mace. Some protesters retaliated by burning several RCMP vehicles. 

This incident is one of several cited in the RCMP report obtained by Greenpeace this week. It suggests that US funders with “deep pockets” are bankrolling “violent environmental extremists” – a so-called “anti-petroleum movement” – against oil and gas development. 

The report, stamped “protected/Canadian eyes only” and dated January 24, 2014, uses a sketchy poll from the right-wing think tank Canada West Foundation – as well as a pro-tar sands column in the Sun, among other sources – to make the unfounded claim that people concerned about climate change pose a threat to national security. 

The RCMP report calls the New Brunswick action “the most violent of the national anti-petroleum protests to date,” even though it was the RCMP who were aggressors on what had been a non-violent blockade. The report does admit, however, that in reaction to this “most violent” of “extremist” actions, “numerous protests in support of the New Brunswick, anti-shale gas protesters [had] occurred across the country.”

Similarly, then, we can expect protests across Canada should the RCMP attempt to remove land defenders from the Unist’ot’en camp, where Wet’suwet’en are peacefully reoccupying their traditional lands along the route of the proposed Pacific Trails and Northern Gateway Pipelines in Northern B.C. They’re also listed as a threat in the leaked RCMP report. According to the protestors, the occupation is an “enforcement of Wet’suwet’en law over the illegal incursions of the oil and gas companies,” not violence and extremism the RCMP is trying to portray.

The report’s highly-charged language has raised fears that environmentalists will face increased police surveillance under the government’s new terror legislation, which makes reference to “activity that undermines the security of Canada.” The RCMP’s framing is meant to scare would-be environmental activists and divert more funding towards monitoring the activities of environmental groups, infiltrating these groups, and harassing individuals who are vocal in their opposition to the oil and pipeline industry. 

The RCMP report is loaded with pro-industry propaganda because public awareness about these issues has grown to a point in Canadian society that there now exists the social license to engage in economically disruptive activities against the industry. 

Like soldiers in an army convincing themselves of the savageness of their enemy, this RCMP report serves as an internal propaganda tool, preparing for a war against frontline people defending the land – and now have more support than ever from people across the country.

Sakura Saunders is editor of protestbarrick.net

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