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Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart explains why the proposed anti-terror legislation threatens civil liberties

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. A week before the debate in Canadian parliament on Bill C-51 that greatly expands the powers of the greatest Canadian spy agency, CSIS, a leaked Royal Canadian Mounted Police document has Canadian activists and civil liberties advocates seriously concerned. The leaked document, titled “Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Assessment” report (criminal threats to the Canadian petroleum industry), written in 2014, has exposed the targeting of environmental and indigenous activists by the RCMP. Our next guest, whose group was named many times in the leaked document, was pivotal in exposing to the public what’s contained in the report. With us to discuss the report and its implications the proposed antiterrorism bill is Keith Stewart. Keith Stewart leads Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy Campaign and is also a part-time faculty member at the University of Toronto, where he teaches a course on energy policy and the environment. Thanks so much for joining us. KEITH STEWART, HEAD OF ENERGY CAMPAIGN, GREENPEACE CANADA: Thank you for having me on. PERIES: So, Keith, let’s start with what your main concerns are about the bill, C-51. STEWART: So the primary concern from a legislation point of view is that the new definitions are so sweeping and so general that–it casts such a wide net, you can catch almost anyone in it. So it’s not just the traditional version of terrorism. They say it’s any kind of a threat to critical infrastructure or to the economy of Canada. So something like a boycott campaign might come under that rubric. There’s also the new crime to sort of promote terrorism in general, which isn’t [incompr.] a specific act, just sort of ideas which are viewed as somehow connected to terrorism, which, for a lot of civil liberty union, they’re saying, well, that’s a problem. It’s also a problem for law enforcement officials, because then, rather than being able to talk to people who are potentially being radicalized, those people will have to be very quiet, because they’ll be afraid of even voicing a view which might be viewed as harmful. The second real concern here, however, is how, you know, in connection with this leaked RCMP document, how peaceful protesters are being targeted as part of this. The document from the RCMP, a 44-page document, which was looking at what they call the anti-petroleum movement, which includes sort of peaceful protesters, what they call militants, and a very small, violent fringe. But the way they’re defining the threat to the infrastructure, it’s all of these people together. And they say things which were kind of shocking to me, where they talk about how this movement is motivated by what they–because they claim that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming or to climate change. And based on this purported threat, which they assert exists–they want to reduce use of fossil fuels, and this is a threat. Well, you know, that’s not us making that claim. That’s the world’s scientists. PERIES: And the IPCC and–. STEWART: The IPCC. They could have gone down the hall to Environment Canada and asked them, is climate change a threat. And we compare this with the U.S., actually, where the security agencies there are assessing climate change as one of the biggest threats to national security and infrastructure. So in Canada we’re targeting the climate activists rather than climate change as a threat to security. PERIES: So, Keith, lots of horrible things are going on in the world, for example the ISIS attacks on Charlie Hebdo. And we’re living in dangerous times. How will this bill get in the way of how we live, which is, I guess, besides the activists, one of the primary concerns around it? STEWART: So I think there are sort of a couple of problems that been identified by the academics who’ve looked at this bill. And one is, you know, yes, terrorism is a concern, there is a threat of that, we need to have effective ways to combat that. But this is really a bill designed to sort of have table-thumping speeches during an election campaign rather than to actually deal with this problem. If you want to prevent people from becoming radicalized rather than naming anyone who has controversial ideas as a criminal and someone against whom you can exert all these new powers, you actually want to be able to engage them in discussion. And some of the experts on terrorism who’ve looked at this said this is actually going to, like, limit law enforcement officials from talking to people who may have concerns about it. They can arrest them now. But the fact that you now have the power to go around and sort of preventively arrest people on the suspicion that they might do something–this is one of the big changes in this bill is that Canadian Security Intelligence Service wouldn’t have to think–wouldn’t have to have evidence that they will commit a crime. They simply have to believe that they might commit some kind of a crime or pose some kind of threat in order to take action against them. And that action is, like, really broad-ranging. If it says they can disrupt organizations trying–and not clear exactly what that means, but it means for sure that they can break the law. And they can actually even violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That’s what’s of great concern, I think, to a lot of people. PERIES: Yeah. And we saw what the current existing unexpanded RCMP rights are. During the G20, for example, we learned that they had infiltrated organizations that were organizing the demonstrations that opposed the G20 that took place in Toronto. And in that process we learned that RCMP has not only infiltrated those organizations like Black Bloc that they were concerned about in terms of violence, but just ordinary organizations that were concerned about the economic life of Canadians. Now, with this new law, what does it allow them to do that they couldn’t do before? STEWART: So one of the big changes is when the RCMP undertakes these types of activities, you know, infiltrates or–you know, in the 1990s they blew up a building in Alberta and tried to–part of trying to catch someone who was attacking the pipelines of one particular oil and gas company. So they blew it up and they blamed it on the people they were trying to catch to try and sort of get people angry with them, and hopefully someone would come forward. But when they do these types of things, the RCMP later has to defend those actions in open court. They have to go before a judge and say, yes, we did this, this is why, this was our rationale, this was–we had these reasonable suspicions that this was going to be a problem, and they got permission to do that. With CSIS, however, the new powers, they would never have to defend that in open court. These would all be secret processes. And, I mean, in Canada we had this great scandal around someone named Maher Arar, who, due to an error by intelligence service, was actually sent to Syria and tortured because he was–on suspicion of being a terrorist, when in fact it was simply based on wrong information and there’s a way to correct that. So those are some of the really big bad things that could go wrong. But also they can do things like they can intercept your email if they think you might be doing something, tap your phone, infiltrate organizations. They can freeze bank accounts. This is the kind of thing which Greenpeace has dealt with in other countries, but you don’t really expect to be dealing with in a country like Canada, where dissent and robust democratic debate is a part of our political culture. And when you think something is really wrong, you can do things like organize a sit-in. I myself have been arrested at a sit-in on Parliament Hill. I knew I was breaking the law. There was a law there to deal with this. For most of these types of peaceful protest, there already are laws to deal with this. We don’t need to lump them in with terrorism and these special powers. If Greenpeace is going to organize a sit-in or we’re going to hang a banner, we don’t run away. We wait till the police get there. We get arrested. We pay our fines or, if necessary, are willing to go to jail. But with these new laws, it’s much more secretive, and there isn’t any kind of oversight built into this. There’s no parliamentary review committee. There’s no independent auditor overlooking these activities. All there is is this one review committee, which is more like an audit group. They sort of selectively audit a few things. It’s got a few members, all of whom are part-time. And they’re going to be overseeing this vast spy operation. We’ve already seen with CSIC, our electronic eavesdropper, they were already breaking the law. They’re already breaking the rules in terms of intercepting information about Canadians that they weren’t supposed to. So if they were already breaking those rules, we’re going to give them a bunch more power with no new form of oversight, that is a recipe for really bad things to happen. PERIES: Right. And this focus in the report on the petroleum industries and threats to the petroleum industry, that is a bit peculiar, particularly given Prime Minister Harper’s connection to the petroleum industry and how he’s been facilitating almost an open-ended opportunities for them. STEWART: Yeah. Well, I mean, the Harper government has been very clear on this, that there’s nothing about this. One of the first speeches he gave, he announced that Canada was an energy superpower and that he would do everything he could to increase exports, bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands. And there’s been great deal of conflict over proposed pipeline construction. Those pipelines have been largely blocked. Well, all of them have actually been blocked–to date, none of them have been built. There’s huge conflict over the role of the increasing production in the tar sands and contributing to global warming. Oil and gas is now our single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the fastest-rising source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. You know, it’s our big problem when it comes to climate change. And the government has changed all the major pieces of environmental legislation to make it easier to get projects approved, get pipelines built. They have attacked environmental groups, called us radicals. They’ve called us money launderers. They’ve called us traitors. Those were words–I can kind of live at that. Sticks and stones. It’s when they sort of start bringing these new police powers to bear–not just Greenpeace, but Greenpeace, we do occasionally break the law. We have a 40-year unbroken history of nonviolence. We’re a peaceful organization. But even groups like–you know, they named the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund in these documents as somehow anti-petroleum extremists, then in fact these are people concerned about climate change. And the fact that the document says how wonderful the oil industry is for Canada’s economy and actually casts doubt on the science of climate change and says it’s only the activists who assert that this is a problem, this is where I was kind of giving my head a shake, saying, like, who’s writing this stuff, and what kind of research are they doing? Because it’s so far out of the mainstream that it’s–I was genuinely shocked. And, you know, I read a lot of internal government documents. They’re never written in this kind of language. The only sources–they major sources cited were an oil industry lobby group and newspaper columnists, not even the actual newspaper stories, not the actual sort of–not even, like, government agencies like Environment Canada. Its, like, commentators and right-wing newspapers. And this is not the kind of research we expect to be informing critical threat assessments to infrastructure in this country. PERIES: Keith Stewart, thank you so much for joining us today. And we’re going to follow this story. And I hope you join us as its passage through Parliament goes into effect. STEWART: I’d love to. Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Keith Stewart is the coordinator of Greenpeace Canada's climate and energy campaign, as well as a part-time faculty member at the University of Toronto where he teaches a course on Energy Policy and the Environment. He has worked as an energy policy analyst and advocate for the last 15 years, including on successful campaigns to phase out coal-fired power plants and enact a Green Energy Act in Ontario. His work at Greenpeace is focused on stopping the expansion of the tar sands and promoting an Energy [R]evolution that will get Canada and the world off of fossil fuels by building an equitable and sustainable energy system based on the efficient use of renewable energy.