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Editorial: What CSIS ought to investigate instead

Our federal government, and CSIS, are focusing on the wrong threats

Recently, there has been publicity about a perception that Canada’s Intelligence Service – CSIS – has dedicated resources to investigating law-abiding, peaceful advocacy groups – and their members -- working to preserve Canada’s natural environment and its life-supporting capacity.  Articles in CBC,  the Globe and Mail, and Victoria’s Times Colonist  have all carried recent articles on the topic.

Reading through the first volume of the “Protest Papers” -- published by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the BC Sierra Club, who had filed a complaint with Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee, (SIRC) about the alleged CSIS spying on lawful advocacy groups -- led me to conclude that our government departments, and  our intelligence services, are dangerously behind the times in terms of the threats our country needs to curb.  At least they were at the time of the SIRC hearing, during 2015 and 2016.  I’ve seen no evidence that the government priorities revealed during the hearing have changed.  

That first volume consists of the redacted SIRC report – labeled “Top Secret”-- authored by the Honourable Yves Fortier. In short, his report found that CSIS had not acted inappropriately or illegally. 

However, the comments by the CSIS employees who were witnesses at the hearing of BCCLA’s complaint must lead any person who keeps up with current events and climate science to realize that our government and its intelligence services are focusing on the wrong things -- not the most urgent threats to Canada’s economy and security.

I agree that CSIS should work to protect critical infrastructure and national security in Canada from threats.  But first, CSIS should understand what truly constitutes critical infrastructure and what the real threats to it, and national security, are. Of course, our federal government must understand those things first.  At present, it doesn’t seem to.

Hint: recent studies have determined that forests are among our most critical infrastructure for combatting climate change – especially mature forests.  People are beginning to realize that wetlands are critical infrastructure for filtering and retaining water.  Healthy oceans are critical infrastructure for maintaining fisheries, not to mention atmospheric oxygen levels.  A stable climate is critical infrastructure for food production -- and so much more that is necessary to human civilization.    

An October , 2014, report  titled “Climate Change Threatens National Security Says Pentagon” refers to a speech made that month by then US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in which he identified climate change as a “threat multiplier” … “because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today – from infectious disease to armed insurgencies – and to produce new challenges in the future.”   

That report also includes a statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the 50th Munich Security Conference held in January, 2014, that  "Climate change is every much a security threat as an armed group bent on plunder".  

These reports and quotes are now dated;  in the past five years, climate change has accelerated and has come to be officially acknowledged by many levels of government, including our own federal government, as a crisis.

Yet our government and its intelligence agencies seem intent on ignoring and discrediting all those activists, and even scientists, working for effective action on the most dire and permanent threat to our national security and our economy:  the climate crisis.  Instead, they are focusing on protecting industries that threaten the very conditions that keep our society and economy viable.

In his report for SIRC, Fortier referred to “an email from the RCMP which states that it will ‘continue to monitor all aspects of the anti-petroleum industry movement’ and the information will be shared with their intelligence partners.”    

Governments say that petroleum-industry infrastructure is “critical to the national interest” and treat citizens who challenge that characterization as if it were those citizens, and not the resource extraction corporations, who are “armed groups bent on plunder.”

At a meeting of the UN Security Council, reported in the Globe & Mail in January of this year, the chief scientist of the World Meteorological Organization pointed out that warnings about the planet’s changing climate were issued at its First World Climate Conference in 1979; he also pointed out that the World Economic Forum in Davos identified extreme weather, natural disasters,  climate change and water crises as the top four “existential threats.”  It doesn’t take much study to realize that much of the world’s extreme weather, many “natural disasters” and many water crises are results of, or exacerbated by, the climate crisis.

Yet groups and individuals protesting inaction on the climate crisis – or government action that they fear will accelerate global heating -- continue to be reviled as “extremist” and “radical” and “ideologically  motivated.”  

In January of 2012, Joe Oliver -- the federal Minister of Natural Resources at the time-- wrote a widely published open letter   which included the following paragraphs:

“Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

“These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

That letter was written over seven years ago, but can we assume that attitudes have improved since then?  Not judging by our Prime Minister’s determination to complete a pipeline intended to expand production at Alberta’s largely foreign-funded, very carbon-intensive tar sands operations.  Not judging by the rhetoric of  his principal rival in the upcoming federal election.  Not judging by the rhetoric and the actions of Alberta’s premier, who is dedicating millions of dollars to combat climate activists.  Not to mention the attitudes of Saskatchewan’s premier, or Ontario’s.

“Radical ideological agenda” -- as if citizens who want humanity to stop driving other species to extinction and causing conditions that could lead to our own extinction are members of some strange cult.  As if those who criticize the economic juggernaut that is extinguishing so much of life on earth are  more “ideologically driven” than those who defend that system.

No, we aren’t “ideologically driven” unless a love of life is more of an ideology than the love of excessive wealth.

I strongly suggest that CSIS and the RCMP should be investigating the undue influence of the petroleum industry (and others) on government decision-making, rather than the actions of citizens intent on preserving life for the longer term in earth’s biosphere.  

Our government urgently needs to update its priorities – for the sake of our national security.

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