When Advocating for First Nations is Considered a National Security Risk

When the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) dedicated countless INAC staff and thousands of dollars to spying on Cindy Blackstock – I think most of us in Turtle Island gave our heads a shake. While it has been known for sometime that Canada spies on our our Indigenous leaders and community members who defend our lands, I don’t think most of us were aware that any First Nation advocate was a target. This is what shocked me the most – that Canada’s “national security” laws are so broad as to make someone like Cindy Blackstock an enemy of the state. http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/11/14/federal-aboriginal-affairs-department-spying-on-advocate-for-first-nations-children/ If someone were to ask me who was the LEAST likely to be spied on by Canada, I would have said Cindy Blackstock because for anyone who knows Cindy or her work, they know she is a peaceful, law-abiding citizen with a big heart. Her only alleged “subversive” or “hostile” act against Canada is that peacefully advocates on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society: First Nations children. Cindy does not do her advocacy by riding in on combat helicopters or tanks – but instead runs the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society, donates her free time to spreading information and speak publicly about the realities faced by First Nations children, and is now running the HAVE A HEART campaign to raise money for First Nations children. http://www.fncfcs.com/have-a-heart (I know I include alot of links in my blogs, but please click on the above link and read about the HAVE A HEART campaign and do what you can to support her efforts.) The level to which Cindy was spied on by INAC is also quite surprising. For a department whose mandate it is to improve the lives of First Nations peoples, but claims to have no money for housing, water and basic necessities for First Nations – they sure spent a great deal of time attending Cindy’s events, spying on her personal Facebook page (not her public one), and reporting to both INAC and Justice Canada about her activities. They even violated her most private information by accessing her registration records and that of her family. Incredibly, INAC has been doing this for some time, so the costs must be astronomical. So, what was INAC’s response to all of this? Minister Duncan said there would be a probe into whether or not government officials broke privacy rules. http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/11/17/aboriginal-affairs-minister-launches-probe-into-blackstock-spying-affair/ However, it is important to note that the “probe” will be headed by Duncan’s Deputy Minister. Once the public knew that the DM was one of the many INAC employees who were copied on the surveillance reports on Cindy, we knew any “probe” would be a complete sham. For a government that complains about lack of transparency and accountability by First Nations – here INAC is having one of their spies investigate whether they were improperly spying – can anyone guess what the outcome will be? This whole situation made me wonder about my own situation and whether my work qualifies me as “hostile” or “subversive”. My advocacy activities have always been peaceful and mostly consist of volunteer activities like sharing information through social media, speaking engagements, working with individuals and community members on a wide range of Indigenous legal, cultural, social and political issues, training sessions, publications, appearing before the House and Senate on legislation impacting our people and organizing pow wows. I still wondered whether this would garner the attention of the multi-layered, well-funded, spy industry within Canada. So, I made an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request to CSIS, INAC, RCMP and DND for any and all records, reports, security assessments, surveillance reports, etc that  they might have in relation to me and my work. To date, only CSIS has responded. In the CSIS letter of Dec.8, 2011, they refer to three different types of information: (1) Security Assessments/Advice; (2) CSIS Service Records; and (3) CSIS Investigational records. On the first set of information they provided me with some records of assessments done when I worked at INAC and Justice Canada, but refused to disclose other material, stating: “Portions of the material have been exempted from disclosure by virtue of section 15(1) (as it relates to the efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities) of the Act.” For the second part, they confirmed they have no service records in relation to me (no surprise there) and for the third type of information they stated that they would “neither confirm nor deny that the records you requested exist.” However they did say that even if such records do exist, they would not release them to me anyway as part of their efforts in “detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities”. So, the moral of the story is that they have at least one type of file on me, and that they would not release the whole file so as to protect Canada from my alleged “subversive or hostile” activities. This to me is like being judged without knowing what I am accused of, and then being sentenced to ongoing spying on undisclosed activities for an undetermined amount of time so as to reduce the security risk to Canada in relation to my peaceful Indigenous advocacy activities. http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2012/01/03/indigenous-prof-puzzled-by-csis-answer-to-information-request/ If Canada’s national security laws permit such broad surveillance of our activities – then my question is what First Nation activities are NOT considered a potential threat to Canada? I would like to know how much money across all federal departments are allocated to spying on First Nations people? I would also like to compare that to the costs to provide housing, water and basic necessities of life to First Nations in need. I am guessing that I would not be entitled to this information either. In my previous blogs, I wrote about INAC issuing contracts to people to spy on First Nation elections and Facebook users. More Than Empty Promises https://pampalmater.com/2011/10/more-than-empty-promises-canadas.html Secret Agent Harper https://pampalmater.com/2011/06/secret-agent-harper-conservative-spy.html From Savages to Terrorists https://pampalmater.com/2011_05_01_archive.html Then, The First Nations Strategic Bulletin (FNSB) which came out in December 2011 explained how after the Conservatives came to power, the RCMP created the Aboriginal Joint Intelligence Group (JIG)partnering with the ENERGY and PRIVATE SECTOR to spy on First Nations. First Nations like Six Nations, Tyendinaga and others were all targeted. The JIG was run by RCMP Criminal Intelligence Branch and the RCMP National Security Criminal Investigations (NSCI) which deal with: “threats to national security and criminal extremism or terrorism”. Most shockingly was that FNSB also reported that the RCMP shared their surveillance reports with private businesses and that private businesses shared information with the RCMP about First Nations. The irony of the situation is so outrageous. It was Canada and its Indian agents that were hostile and subversive to our peoples – not the other way around. It is we who have pre-mature deaths, worse health, less education, less employment and less access to land and resources. It is we who continue to suffer the inter-generational effects of their colonial laws and policies which STILL exist today. Can you get any more hostile that the over-apprehension of our children from our communities at 3 times the rate of residential schools? Or that some of federal prisons have 100% Indigenous inmates or that the Indian Act still provides for our legislative extinction dates? Yet, we are supposed to be appeased when representatives of Canada speak about moving forward, looking ahead,  and reconciliation. How can First Nations be expected to come to the table with any hope of making real progress when their treaty “partner” comes to the table alleging good faith but with no less than 4 federal departments spying on our people and treating us like we are terrorists on our own lands? But will any of these important issues make it to the agenda for the First Nations-Crown Summit in January? Of course not. In case you haven’t noticed, very little of the core issues are on the table for discussion and resolution. Instead the agenda consists of program areas like economic development, education and accountability – important issues, but all ones which could easily be addressed by directors and a commitment to equitable funding. Issues like self-determination, First Nation jurisdiction, equitable funding, fair share of the land and resources, recognition of our treaties and Indigenous rights are all OFF the agenda. So, I will wait to see what information about my files I get from the RCMP, DND and INAC, and will also wait and see if NC Atleo addresses any of these fundamental relationship issues with Canada. But in the meantime, my bet is on our grass roots people and the youth in turning this situation around and taking back control over our own lives.


  1. Excellent blog Pam. Thank you for all of your efforts on our behalf. They're much appreciated.

  2. Thank you Pam for this excellent commentary. I applied for more records so it will be interesting to see what comes in the mail. Like you, I would rather Canada spend the dollars and time they are wasting following law peaceful people around to address the horrible living conditions for First Nations children and families. Thanks for spreading the word about Have a Heart day for First Nations children. When the children get culturally based and equitable services so they can all succeed and be proud of who they are – the struggle we have all endured in getting there will have been worth it. Equally important – our children will be proud of the peaceful ways we achieved the equity. I am not too sure anyone would be putting Canada's behaviour up as a role model.

  3. You know I cannot miss the opportunity to correct you, Pam, but in my area; our treaty partner is Liz. Great work as always and how can I get copies of the stuff you apply for under the freedom of information act?

  4. Thanks everyone for your support. It means everything to me.

    If anyone ever asks you how they can help support our struggle for justice, tell them to go to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society web page, click on the Have a Heart Campaign and there are various financial and non-financial options.

    Sometimes even an email to a Member of Parliament or offering moral support to a First Nation friend struggling through school, or taking the time do some independent learning about First Nations issues can all result in huge social paybacks.

    Once I have all my ATIP responses, I'll see what I can post.

  5. Loved your article Pam. You seem to say all the right things about advocates who defend our rights or tried to bring forth agendas which Canadians need to know or understand. People like Cindy do great work for our people by protecting the rights of FN children and for them to be treated equally so they can enjoy the benefits which every Canadian child receives. Is there something wrong with that? It could get pretty nasty but it would not be the FN who throws the first stone. We have to react somehow because of the dismal conditions we have to live under. Canadians know we do not have the military might but we continue to block roads in hope of being understood. Keep up the good work…mahsi.

  6. I agree with all the commentors. You fight the good fight, but you do not lose your values or who you are and you do not slip down the road to lateral violence or hatred like too many do. You are precise, to the point, respectful, informative and passionate.

    I am truly happy to call you my friend.

  7. It would be akin to putting Mother Theresa on surveillance! It's the power of having the ability to motivate others, which is so threatening!

  8. Just a follow up to this. (Saw Pam on CBC Newsworld tonight and decided to revisit this story. Another sad day for FN peoples.) Some companies still to this day self-identify as members of the Aboriginal Joint Intelligence Group, even though it was "disbanded" and never meant to be permanent. One example is CN, which lists their membership in AJIG on their website. http://www.cn.ca/en/corporate-citizenship-safety-security.htm

    Any chance on doing some follow-up on this story?

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