Miles Howe returned to New Brunswick on Feb. 4 to present his research on the surveillance of Indigenous rights activists. Howe’s talk was titled: “Snake Oil and Project SITKA: The story of the ex-industry consultant with zero police training behind the RCMP’s profiling matrix.”
Howe was welcomed by his “jail buddy,” Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay who reminded the public of the journalist’s three separate arrests during his time in Elpsipogtog. Author of Debriefing Elsipogtog: The Anatomy of a Struggle, Howe is now a PhD candidate in the department of Cultural Studies at Queen’s University where he studies police surveillance.
Since Howe was at the Elsipogtog protest site during the struggle against shale gas, he was curious about the methodology behind Project SITKA’s investigations and decided to research it. Howe shared the results of his findings. The RCMP were looking for a “pan-national Indigenous rights movement” but they found no links.
Project SITKA was a “quasi-criminal investigation” carried out by the RCMP between 2014-2015, coincidentally at the time when Indigenous activism was, according to the RCMP, on the rise. According to Project SITKA investigation’s methodology, 313 people were put on a list of “suspects, persons of interest or associates of someone who may have committed a crime.” This list of 313 was run through the RCMP’s ‘socio-psychological profiling matrix,’ and was further reduced to 89 Indigenous rights activists who were classified as ‘volatile’ or ‘disruptive.’ Forty-five of these 89 activists were linked to “the Elsipogtog protests” against shale gas, and 35 were from New Brunswick.
Howe had to file various requests to the RCMP under the Access to Information Act. One of the documents Howe received was the RCMP’s “baseline methodology” based on a document by Dr. Eli Sopow, a consultant and former Director in the Operations Strategy Branch for the RCMP, categorizing protesters as “passive, active and volatile” subjects.
This document also showed that Sopow created an ambiguous gradation for categorizing events called the Public Order Profile Scale (POPS), a risk rating questionnaire for events. For Howe, the POPS Scale has “absolutely nothing to do with criminal intent” but is about attributing risk scores to events and “issues” that are being protested. The potential of an issue’s ease of being understood, for example, becomes equivalent with risk.
For Howe the RCMP’s research and surveillance on “Indigenous Rights Activism” has “everything to do with the risks associated with an idea.” The “notion of connectivity” and the fear of the solidarity between groups appears dangerous to the government. Howe suggests that according to the RCMP’s own methodology, issues and groups should be “quarantined” to avoid “contagion.”
A further request made by Howe under the Access to Information Act has shown that Project SITKA was renewed in 2016, which directly coincided with Prime Minister Trudeau’s November 2016 announcement of the Trans Mountain Pipeline approval. Howe has also found that “there are Indigenous community profiles” as well, showing individual community’s risk rates using various demographic indicators that are more indicative of social issues than criminality.
Howe has also found evidence that there was a sister surveillance project to Project SITKA that appears to have run alongside SITKA in 2014-2015, but which has so far escaped publicity. For Howe, data and information is “one of the master’s tools so it’s not going to take down the master’s house.” On the other hand, researching our public institutions –municipal, provincial, federal, university– is central to critical thinking in society: “we should all be doing this, it doesn’t have to be about security.”
For more information on the RCMP’s methodological tools, check out this paper by Miles Howe and Jeffrey Monaghan of Carleton University.
Howe’s most recent publication is about a project with former RCMP Calvin Lawrence: Black Cop: My 36 years in police work, and my career ending experiences with official racism (Lorimer, 2019). The book tells the story of how Lawrence struggled with systemic racial discrimination in various police forces.
The talk was organized by the NB Media Co-op and Rural Action & Voices for the Environment with support from the Wolastoq Grand Council and the Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture and is a NB Media Co-op editorial board member.