It was not your typical book launch. Now, a formal information request of the RCMP has revealed that police intended to “stop a crime” when they attended a book launch at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick on October 23, 2019.
Two RCMP officers made their presence known at the event, at which the author discussed how communities can defend themselves from mining companies. According to the information request, the RCMP officers were Joanne Spacek and Sebastien LeBlanc.
Dave Thomas is a Mount Allison professor in the politics and international relations department. He organized the book launch of Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community from the Mining Industry with author Joan Kuyek. The RCMP visit to the book launch where they introduced themselves to Kuyek at the end of the event prompted Thomas to file an information request on the nature of the visit.
“The information revealed through the access to information request is startling, especially the fact that they cited an exemption to providing the information because the information pertained to the detection, prevention or suppression of crime,” said Thomas.
“On the one hand it is totally absurd to frame an academic discussion of a book as in some way being connected to criminal activity,” said Thomas. “On the other hand, this conforms to existing patterns of police surveillance directed at activists, land defenders, and others who might be opposed to resource extraction.”
For author Kuyek, the visit was not entirely surprising. The seasoned activist says she was told in the 1960s by Ian Adams, who was researching a book on police surveillance of activists at the time, that the RCMP had a file on her. Kuyek helped co-found and establish the Ontario Tenants Association and MiningWatch Canada, an organization that supports communities affected by mining.
“Over the decades, I have tried on occasion to get a copy of any file they might have on me. I was told there was no file under ‘National Security,’ and that I could only get a record of Criminal files, if I told them what crime I had committed, when and where, so of course, I didn’t pursue it,” said Kuyek.
Kuyek said she has been arrested a couple of times for protesting, but the charges were subsequently dropped.
Thomas calls the RCMP presence on campus a threat to academic freedom: “The RCMP showing up to the event was an unwelcome intrusion into an academic space on our campus, and constitutes a serious threat to our academic freedom. Students and faculty need to feel comfortable engaging with all kinds of ideas, even those that challenge dominant paradigms, without fear of being watched by police.”
Kuyek’s book tour in New Brunswick occurred the same week that New Brunswick announced it was giving a conditional approval to a J.D. Irving-owned gypsum mine near the Hammond River in rural Upham. The project was criticized by local residents who feared the mine would affect their well water and roads. Earlier that year, Sarah Blenis and her neighbours were dismayed to learn that their opposition to the mine had made them targets of RCMP surveillance.
Previously, in 2017, Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay and activists against the Energy East pipeline expressed concern over RCMP Constable Joanne Spacek’s presence at meetings. Spacek told The National Observer that her job is “liasioning with First Nations groups and with industry. Just sharing information. And when they organize events that everyone is safe and when they do it, they do it lawfully as well. So, really, my role is liasioning with them… It’s to build relations with industry and First Nations. On a positive note.”
Governments in Canada have a long history of using the RCMP to attack critics of the state and capital and of violating the civil rights of Canadians. The RCMP spied on Tommy Douglas, Canada’s father of Medicare, for three decades. In 1999, activists were blamed for bombing an Alberta oil site but it was later revealed that the RCMP had bombed the site on the instructions of Alberta Energy Company.
Miles Howe, a journalist arrested three times during his coverage of the anti-shale protests near Elsipogtog in 2013, is currently researching the surveillance of Indigenous rights activists and Project SITKA, an RCMP investigation carried out between 2014-2015.
According to Howe, 313 people were originally put on Project Sitka’s list of “suspects, persons of interest or associates of someone who may have committed a crime.” The list of 313 was run through the RCMP’s ‘socio-psychological profiling matrix,’ and further reduced to 89 Indigenous rights activists who were classified as ‘volatile’ or ‘disruptive.’ Forty-five of the 89 Indigenous rights activists were linked to the Elsipogtog protests against shale gas in 2013 and 35 were from New Brunswick.
As documented in the 2018 book, Policing Indigenous Movements, by Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan, the RCMP is monitoring environmental groups and Indigenous land defenders and communities across Canada.
According to Monaghan, “the police are monitoring and aggregating data from social media that can be used for specific interventions such as crowd control and criminalization of dissent.”
“I have always assumed that left-wing activists in this country were under surveillance, so I don’t find the RCMP presence at my book launch particularly surprising. The mining industry will do everything it can to discredit its critics,” said Kuyek.
Kuyek’s book launch event was supported by the Department of Politics and International Relations at Mount Allison University, RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment) at the University of New Brunswick, the Canada Research Chair in Global and International Studies at St. Thomas University, MiningWatch Canada, and the publisher, Between the Lines.
Tracy Glynn is a NB Media Co-op editorial board member.