Earlier in October, the CBC reported that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had refused to release records related to their surveillance of Indigenous protest movements. They redacted the information using a clause typically related to foreign terrorist activities. The fact that Canada’s spy agency views the just struggle of the Wet’suwet’en against Coastal GasLink’s natural gas pipeline as an hostile and subversive act tells us all we need to know about the Canadian state.
Internal enemies and threats to sovereignty
After the RCMP enforced an injunction on behalf of Coastal GasLink against the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and attacked their lands earlier this year, there was a spontaneous eruption of solidarity across the country. In addition to the various solidarity demonstrations and occupations that took place across Canada, the provincial legislature in Victoria was blocked while ports were shut down in Vancouver, roads and bridges were blocked around the country, and railway blockades led to widespread disruptions of passenger trains in Ontario and Quebec and the shutdown of all rail freight traffic from Halifax to Toronto.
This movement in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en was one of the most significant national movements of protest we have seen in some time, and it had the ruling class and governments terrified.
CBC News had requested CSIS records in relation to these solidarity actions, but the spy agency withheld them under a section of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act (ATIP) that allows for exemptions in relation to “detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities.”
According to the CBC,
The spy agency used section 15 of the Access to Information Act to exempt some records from release, according to the letter from the branch co-ordinator. Section 15, subtitled ‘international affairs and defence,’ defines ‘subversive or hostile activities’ as including sabotage, terrorism, actions directed at a ‘government change,’ activities that ‘threaten’ Canadians or federal employees, and espionage.
According to Jeffrey Monaghan, who co-wrote Policing Indigenous Movements, the use of this exemption “suggests the spy agency viewed Indigenous road and rail blockades and demonstrations as threats to Canada’s sovereignty.” He added that,
It completely fits the CSIS operational culture that sees these groups as antagonists, political antagonists, especially Indigenous movements, as capable of challenging Canadian sovereignty… Using that section is indicative of the types of language being used in those documents. They are seeing these movements as kind of hostile movements… This reflects a lot more on CSIS and how they understand these movements, really like internal enemies.
Criminalization of Indigenous struggle
Despite the Trudeau government’s hypocritical talk of “reconciliation,” the fact that CSIS and other police agencies around the country consider Indigenous movements as “internal enemies” and as “threats to Canadian sovereignty” should really come as no surprise.
The same CBC article on the CSIS exemption provided a quote that explained the situation perfectly by Andrew Brant, who is Mohawk from Tyendinaga and was charged for allegedly being at the solidarity blockade site after a court injunction. He said, “It’s been Canadian and colonial authorities that have executed hostile and subversive actions against [my] people for hundreds of years,” adding that, “What is happening right now and what has happened is just ongoing persecution of Indigenous people to continue piggybacking on our resources and trying to label us as terrorists, labels used to get control and power.”
The Canadian state is rooted in the subjugation and oppression of Indigenous peoples. Canadian law has always been used as a weapon to criminalize Indigenous peoples. Historically speaking, one of the primary reasons for the creation of the RCMP and its predecessors was to crush Indigenous resistance to colonization in order to force Indigenous peoples onto reserves to clear the way for capitalist development.
The Canadian state continues to do this to this very day. CSIS has been monitoring various movements it considers “threats” for years. During the 2013 struggle in New Brunswick against fracking in the Siknuktuk district of Mi’kma’ki, CSIS was monitoring protests and labelled the movement a “National Tactical Intelligence Priority.” Eighty-nine individuals, mostly Indigenous water protectors, were labelled as “threats.”
In 2014, it came to light that CSIS was monitoring Idle No More, the Dogwood Initiative, the Sierra Club of BC, and the Council of Canadians among other groups for activities in relation to the struggle against the Northern Gateway Pipeline. CSIS also shared this information with Enbridge, the company that owned the pipeline. Seeing as CSIS is engaging in these operations in the interests of the capitalists, the fact that it shares operational information with the capitalists should come as no surprise either.
The Government Operations Centre (GOC), set up under the Harper government, is a federal emergency response unit. In reality it functions like an intelligence clearing house. In 2014, it was ordered to monitor all political demonstrations taking place around the country. While the RCMP has been monitoring the Unist’ot’en blockade camp since at least 2011, a 2015 GOC report labelled the Unist’ot’en blockade as “the ideological and physical focal point of Aboriginal resistance to resource extraction projects” and expressed concern that other movements could “converge” and unite in the struggle. The GOC has continued this monitoring of political protest under the Trudeau government.
It has also been revealed that CSIS was monitoring the rallies and following all the events around murdered and missing Indigenous women and that it was spying on protests against the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, the Energy East and Eastern Mainline Projects, and the Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Generation Project in addition to the aforementioned Northern Gateway pipeline.
Late last year, The Guardian revealed that the RCMP were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders during the state raids on Wet’suwet’en lands in early 2019. The RCMP argued that “lethal overwatch” was required and RCMP commanders ordered officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as [they] want” when dismantling the roadblock controlling access to Wet’suwet’en lands.
Class struggle and the law
The fact of the matter is that the ruling class has been preparing for an intensification of the class struggle for some time. The Harper government passed Bill C-51, the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, in 2015. This law greatly expanded the powers of CSIS and allows for CSIS to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to break the law in order to facilitate CSIS spying and infiltration of activist groups. We see now that these expanded powers are not enough for CSIS, with the revelation that CSIS employees see the warrant process as “burdensome” and “a necessary evil.”
The capitalists have many tools at their disposal in the class struggle. These include the state, the courts and the law, and the armed bodies of men, i.e. the police, intelligence agencies, and the military. These have all been created and adapted to ensure the rule of the capitalists and defend the private ownership of the means of production. It should come as no surprise then that the ruling class would use these tools against the working class and others it considers “threats,” such as Indigenous and environmental movements.
Mass movements, at times with insurrectionary implications, have erupted in country after country around the world. While a mass movement of insurrectionary proportions has not occurred in Canada, the ruling class knows full well that all the same conditions that led to these mass movements in other countries are also present here. It is not a question of if such a movement will erupt in Canada, but a question of when.
The movement in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en earlier this year was a sign of things to come. This explains the haste of the UCP government in Alberta to pass Bill 1 and Bill 32. These Acts passed by the Kenney government essentially take away the right to protest and strike – some of the key tools of the working class in the class struggle.
Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, was passed in direct response to the road and rail blockades in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. During the blockades, Kenney was very clear when he said that the blockades “are a dress rehearsal for illegal protests against pretty much any major project.” His government wasted no time using the legislative power of the Alberta government to declare any such protest in the future as “illegal.”
Bill 1 allows for fines and possible imprisonment for “willfully destroying or damaging essential infrastructure” as well as “obstructing, interrupting or interfering” with essential infrastructure. Pipelines, highways, utilities, oil and gas production facilities, and telecommunication lines, dams and mines are all considered essential infrastructure.
The Act is a clear attack on the Indigenous struggle and criminalizes the right to protest in general. The Act specifically states that “The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, would protect essential infrastructure from damage or interference caused by blockades, protests or similar activities.”
As we explained in a previous article, Bill 32, the so-called “Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act” is a total attack on the trade unions specifically and on workers’ rights in general in Alberta. The Act specifically restricts anyone from “obstructing or impeding” people attempting to cross a picket line and requires unions to obtain permission from the LabourRelations Board before any secondary picketing can be conducted. By making picket lines essentially toothless, the Act is designed to take away the ability of the working class to engage in class struggle.
Unity in struggle
Under capitalism, we do not all have the same rights, and what rights we do have are not protected equally. The state is not neutral. The law is not neutral. The state, the law and the courts, and the various police and military agencies are ultimately designed to protect the interests and rule of the bourgeoisie and to maintain and defend their private ownership of the means of production.
The ruling class has an explicit interest in using the state and the law against both the working class and Indigenous struggle. The class struggle is intensifying and the bourgeoisie are preparing to use the heavy hand of the state to crush any resistance.
Protests and blockades against pipelines and in support of Indigenous rights or striking workers are not threats to national security. Protest, blockades, and solid picket lines are, however, threats to the interests of the ruling class. Controlling the economic destiny of the nation and protecting their ability to exploit workers and make profits are some of the main elements in the class rule of the capitalists.
The ruling class sees any threats to its interest as a “threat to national security” because it sees them as threats to its ability to rule, to enforce economic policy in its interest, and to exploit the working class without opposition. This is why various Indigenous movements are considered “threats to national security.” This is why the Alberta government bans “illegal” protests of infrastructure and essentially bans picket lines.
The methods used by the state, by the police, and by CSIS to spy on, infiltrate, and criminalize Indigenous struggle are also used against the working class. The Government Operations Centre already monitors all protest movements and demonstrations around the country. In Alberta, Bill 1 and Bill 32 attack the right to protest of Indigenous peoples and the working class alike. As the class struggle intensifies around the country, this type of legislation will look increasingly attractive to other governments around the country.
The ruling class is sharpening its weapons. We must also prepare for the battles to come. The working class and Indigenous peoples have the same enemy, an enemy that has the entire power of the state at its disposal. The greatest weapon we have is solidarity. An injury to one truly is an injury to all. We must all come together in common struggle any time Indigenous rights are under attack, any time workers’ rights are under attack, and any time the right to protest or form a picket line are under attack.
The trade unions can and should be playing a leading role in united struggle. Mass solidarity demonstrations should be organized and picket lines bolstered where needed. On the basis of a united struggle we can fight against the attacks on the right to protest and strike in Alberta, we can fight in defence of the Haudenosaunee land defenders to defend unceded land from developers, and we can fight in defence of the rights of the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. The ruling class has been waging a one-sided war for far too long. Now is the time for us to fight back.