While American intelligence officials are concerned about threats from Islamic terrorists, Canadian officials have identified a very different threat to their national security: environmental extremists.
“There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,” reads a January 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the Mounties) obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace.
“If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment,” the Mounties’ report reads.
The report’s release by Greenpeace comes as the Canadian government is debating legislation that would give security agencies more power to spy on and stymie suspected terror groups. Critics argue the bill would give government officials the power to infiltrate and obstruct environmental groups they believe pose a threat to Canadian infrastructure.
“This document identifies anyone who is concerned about climate change as a potential, if not actual – the lines are very blurry – ‘anti-petroleum extremist’ looking to advance their ‘anti-petroleum ideology,’” Keith Stewart, a campaigner for Greenpeace, told The Globe and Mail.
“The parts that are genuinely alarming about this document are how it lays the groundwork for all kinds of state-sanctioned surveillance and dirty tricks” should the contentious law be passed, Stewart added.
But this is not the first time the Mounties have warned of the growing threat of environmentalism. In 2011, the Mounties reported of a “growing radicalized environmentalist faction” in Canada that opposed fossil fuel projects in the country. The 2011 singled out Greenpeace as one group that was using increasingly “violent” methods to protest energy development.
“Greenpeace is opposed to the development of Canada’s Arctic region, as well as Canada’s offshore petroleum industry,” according to the 2011 report. “Criminal activity by Greenpeace activists typically consists of trespassing, mischief, and vandalism, and often requires a law enforcement response.”
“Greenpeace actions unnecessarily risk the health and safety of the activists, the facility’s staff, and the first responders who are required to extricate the activists,” the report added. “Tactics employed by activist groups are intended to intimidate and have the potential to escalate to violence.”
Greenpeace has been known for its extreme tactics, especially the use of its fleet to board oil offshore rigs. More recently, Greenpeace activists were the subject of criminal charges for permanently damaging the Nazca lines, an ancient heritage site in Peru, during last year’s United Nations climate summit.
Aside from boarding oil rigs, Canadian officials may also be concerned over heavy environmental opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and other such projects that are being held up. Activists have spent millions opposing Keystone XL in Canada and the U.S., saying the pipeline would contribute to global warming and cause oil spills. The Obama administration has yet to approve the project, but the Canadian government has put a lot of political capital into Keystone’s approval.
Canada is not the only country to identify Greenpeace and other groups as national security threats. India has deemed green groups as threats to its economic security because their of opposition to coal-fired power — an absolute necessity in a country where some 300 million people lack access to electricity.
India’s Intelligence Bureau declared Greenpeace “a potential threat to national economic security… growing exponentially in terms of reach, impact, volunteers and media influence.”
The report said Greenpeace was finding “ways to create obstacles in India’s energy plans” and to “pressure India to use only renewable energy.” Indian intelligence officers said Greenpeace’s activities have cost the country between 2 and 3 percent of its gross domestic product every year.
But that’s India. Canada is supposed to have stronger protections for protesters, argue civil rights lawyers. Civil rights activists argue that the bill giving Canadian officials more power to protect national security will cause peaceful protests to be targeted, not just criminal activities.
“These kind of cases involving environmental groups – or anti-petroleum groups as the RCMP likes to frame them – are really the sharp end of the stick in terms of [the bill],” said Paul Champ, a lawyer handling the complaints of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
“With respect to [the bill], I and other groups have real concerns it is going to target not just terrorists who are involved in criminal activity, but people who are protesting against different Canadian government policies,” Champ said.
But the Mounties say they don’t conduct surveillance of groups unless criminal activity is suspected.
“As part of its law enforcement mandate the RCMP does have the requirement to identify and investigate criminal threats, including those to critical infrastructure and at public events,” Mounties Sergeant Greg Cox told The Globe and Mail. “There is no focus on environmental groups, but rather on the broader criminal threats to Canada’s critical infrastructure. The RCMP does not monitor any environmental protest group. Its mandate is to investigate individuals involved in criminality.”
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