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Editorial Rant: RCMP Surveillance of Social Media -- to What End?

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Recent articles in The Tyee discuss the revelation that the RCMP have been engaged in monitoring social media – characterized in the article as “ongoing wide-scale monitoring of individuals’ social media use [that] could pose a threat to Canadians’ privacy and charter rights, say experts.”

But wait -- every time I look up a product, whether on social media or otherwise, I get bombarded with advertising for that very type of product – both on social media and also on nearly every other site I visit.  Don’t tell me that those advertisers aren’t also engaging in “wide-scale monitoring” of ALL my on-line activities.  And they’re doing it for private gain, not to prevent murder and mayhem.

Who would I rather have monitoring my on-line investigations?  Advertisers, who will pester me with ads for things I’ve already bought, and other entities who want to see inside my head to find out how best to convince me of whatever they want me to think -- or the RCMP, who are arguably out to prevent things like mass shootings and other anti-social  events? 

But, “BIG BROTHER!” people object.  Yes, and I have a big brother who protected me from bullies when I was a skinny little kid.  I’ve always been grateful to him for that.  Similarly, I admire the crime-fighting work done by our local detachment of the RCMP, and I just wish our local top cop’s wish for more officers could be fulfilled.

1984?  Yes, there are similarities between the surveillance of society in the novel and today’s wide-spread surveillance of just about everyone.  But I don’t blame the RCMP for their watching and analyzing.  Those who do the most damage to our society –  who suppress evidence and present the public with persuasive lies to achieve their profit goals – are large corporations whose friends in government do their most effective work for them.  The recent SNC-Lavalin debacle is just one tiny example of that form of “business as usual.” When the RCMP spy on and attack activists, they do it at the behest of our government(s), who have it done at the behest of their buddies in the world of Big Money.

So please, civil-rights activists – I support your work, so hear me on this: don’t howl too loudly about the RCMP sifting through social media to see if they can shut down criminal activity, or someone peddling hate, divisiveness and violence over race or gender.  But please howl VERY loudly when governments direct RCMP to protect the interests of the fossil-fuel industry, or the tobacco industry, or any other big fat industry over the interests of citizens trying to protect life on earth:  clean air, clean water, and a climate that won’t end our society in a paltry few  generations.  Or a paltry few years.

As documented in a two-part investigative piece in the National Observer (links provided below), the federal government has used the RCMP to do just that – to protect the fossil fuel industry from the inconvenience of having protestors disrupt their “progress” – even peacefully.  Remember the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en in northern  BC to keep the LNG pipeline from damaging a settlement in their territory?  Remember how the RCMP attacked the barriers with riot gear and arrested 14 peaceful, unarmed protestors?  That was in aid of industry. 

Given the realities of climate change, it seems clear that our government had the RCMP act for narrow, short-term economic interests, and contrary to the long-term well-being of society as a whole.  LNG is a fossil fuel, and when its production, transport and use is included in calculations, scientists maintain that it is not as “green” as its proponents want us to believe; they say it’s worse than coal.  LNG in BC is now being extracted by means of “fracking” or fracturing  shale rock by pumping water, sand and undisclosed chemicals into it, forcing out the gas.  In the process, fracking also releases methane, contaminates aquifers – underground streams or reservoirs of water – and  has caused hundreds of (so far) relatively minor earthquakes. Several countries and states have banned fracking.

Yet the rights-of-way and pipelines for transporting LNG  (not to mention diluted bitumen from northern Alberta)  are classed by our government as “critical infrastructure” in the “national interest” regardless of how they contribute to the acceleration of climate change.  Accordingly, the RCMP are tasked by our governments with protecting those items of infrastructure – against people who are trying to protect their land, or to maintain a climate that can continue to support life as we know it.

“Ecoterrorists” – that’s the label inaccurately applied by some officials to people of conscience who demonstrate against projects that will, and do, damage the life-supporting capacity of the earth’s biosphere.  But to my mind, the “ecoterrorists” are the profiteers who make fortunes by doing violence to ecosystems, suppressing research about the damage they’re doing, and off-loading the cost of the environmental damage they cause onto the public. Our government, then, uses the RCMP to protect ecoterrorists and their profits. Now, that I resent.

I’d much prefer that the RCMP use their power to enforce the laws of the land – against corporations and governments too, where they fail to follow them. Example: the law requires that fish being transferred into open-net salmon “farms” be inspected for infectious agents that could harm wild fish. Fish-farming corporations have not done it, and both the federal and our provincial governments have turned a blind eye. The RCMP have not been ordered to enforce that law, but they have acted to evict First Nations protestors from peacefully “occupying”  fish farm operations that are breaking that law, in their territories, without their consent.

I resent the use of our intelligence services to spy on organizations like the Council of  Canadians, which exists to “advocate for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy … educate and empower people to hold our governments and corporations accountable.”  Ooo – dangerous, eh?

They also spied on other harmless environmental NGOs like the Dogwood Initiative. Read The Narwhal’s Emma Gilchrist on discovering, in 2013, that the government had been having her and others then at Dogwood spied upon.  The were considered potential ““threats” to energy infrastructure and “challenges to energy projects from environmental groups.””   

Gilchrist commented,  “What kind of country spies on environmental organizations in the name of the oil industry? It seems more Nigerian than Canadian.”   

To be clear: I oppose violence and I don’t object to the RCMP scanning social media to prevent violence by groups or individuals of any political or religious stripe, and to shut down child pornography.  I do object very strongly to the use of the RCMP by governments to favour corporate wrongdoing and to treat as suspicious – potentially criminal -- those who work within the law to expose it and to protect conditions that favour life on earth.

The terrible thing about protecting the profits of corporations instead of the health of our biosphere and our social fabric is that it sets up the very conditions that give rise to inequality and social unrest, and those are fertile breeding grounds for extremism and violence.

Instead of preventing violence, when our governments abuse the services of the RCMP to protect corporate interests, and apply the law selectively to force climate-change-accelerating projects through, they are actively creating conditions that are likely to encourage violence by people who feel they have nothing left to lose – that it’s worth going to jail to protest against the idiocy that will sacrifice the lives of our children on the altar of a destructive economy.

Child sacrifice has never kept a society from collapsing in the past; what makes anyone think it might work now?

Links to the National Observer articles mentioned above:

https://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/05/05/news/spies-our-midst-rcmp-and-csis-snoop-green-activists

https://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/05/18/news/canadas-spies-collude-energy-sector