G20 case reveals 'largest ever' police spy operation

Police organizations across the country co-operated to spy on community organizations and activists in what the RCMP called one of the largest domestic intelligence operations in Canadian history, documents reveal.

RCMP collaborated with provincial and local police to monitor activists

Police in riot gear stand guard in front of activists during a protest ahead of the G20 summit in downtown Toronto on June 25, 2010. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Police organizations across the country co-operated to spy on community organizations and activists in what the RCMP called one of the largest domestic intelligence operations in Canadian history, documents reveal.

Information about the extensive police surveillance in advance of last year's G8 and G20 meetings in southern Ontario comes from evidence presented in the case of 17 people accused of orchestrating street turmoil during the summits.

The court case ended Tuesday before it went to trial. Six of the defendants pleaded guilty to counselling mischief and two of those to an additional count of counselling to obstruct police, while 11 people had their criminal charges dropped.

Testimony previously under a publication ban describes how two undercover police officers — one male, one female — spent 18 months infiltrating southern Ontario community groups ahead of the June 26-27, 2010, gathering of world leaders.

They were part of a much larger so-called joint intelligence group (JIG) operation that the RCMP, in its internal post-summit review, called "likely the largest JIG ever assembled in Canada."

Undercover operatives

The Crown built its case against the 17 around the work of the two officers, Ontario Provincial Police members Bindo Showan and Brenda Carey. It was a massive case: 59 criminal charges in all, more than 70,000 pages of Crown evidence disclosed to the defence, and months of scheduled testimony.

Read the files

Documents obtained under freedom of information legislation reveal the extensive police surveillance operation against political groups and activists.

Earlier this fall, Showan told the court about how he attended a meeting prior to the Toronto summit. There, a protest-planning group that included several of the 17 main G20 defendants was discussing whether to lend their support to a First Nations rally.

Adam Lewis, one of the 17 accused conspirators in the G20 case, interjected, "Kill whitey!" The group chuckled. Lewis, like all but one of his co-accused, is white.

When a Crown lawyer asked the officer what he thought Lewis meant, Showan said in complete seriousness, to "kill white people."

"Deliberately or accidentally, the undercover officers misinterpreted hyperbolic jokes as literal statements of belief," said Kalin Stacey, a community organizer, friend and supporter of the defendants. "This undercover case highlights the incentive for undercovers to ensure that charges are laid."

Canada-wide surveillance

The two undercover officers at the core of the Crown's case were just a small part of a Canada-wide operation to spy on activist groups in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the G20 summit in Toronto and the G8 meeting in Huntsville, Ont.


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RCMP records obtained under freedom of information legislation reveal that at least 12 undercover officers infiltrated groups. Organizations in Vancouver, the southern Ontario cities of Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto and Montreal were scrutinized.

In all, the RCMP-led joint intelligence group — a conglomeration of federal, provincial and municipal police tasked with G8/G20 reconnaissance — employed more than 500 people at its peak, the records show. The group ran undercover operations, recruited confidential informants and liaised with domestic and foreign governments, law enforcement agencies and even corporations. 

The JIG's targets included activists protesting the Olympics, the migrant-justice group No One Is Illegal, Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance and Greenpeace.

"The 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville ... will likely be subject to actions taken by criminal extremists motivated by a variety of radical ideologies," reads a JIG report from June 2009, before the G20 summit was scheduled, that sets out the intelligence group's mission. "These ideologies may include variants of anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, nihilism, socialism and/or communism.

'We're always concerned about public safety. That's ournumber1concern.' —Sgt. Pierre Chamberland, OPP spokesperson

"The important commonality is that these ideologies ... place these individuals and/or organizations at odds with the status quo and the current distribution of power in society."

The surveillance was widespread. Campers at Rattlesnake Provincial Park west of Toronto were monitored, while another document indicates that police had a process in place "to obtain information on registered campers" who stayed at Algonquin Provincial Park and Arrowhead Provinical Park, both of which are within driving distance of Hunstville.

And RCMP records suggest that the reconnaissance continues. Report logs indicate at least 29 incidents of police surveillance between the end of the G20 summit and April 2011 — more than nine months after world leaders departed Toronto.

The same document indicates that the RCMP-led intelligence team made a series of presentations to private-sector corporations, including one to "energy sector stakeholders" in November 2011. 

Other corporations that received intelligence from police included Canada’s major banks, telecom firms, airlines, downtown property companies and other businesses seen to be vulnerable to the effects of summit protests. 

Public safety

Spokesperson Sgt. Pierre Chamberland acknowledged the OPP had undercover officers involved in the G20 but declined to speak about specifics, saying the force can’t comment on operational matters.

But he said generally, undercover agents are constrained in what they can say and do by strict policies.

"So it's not a matter of like you would see on television where they can do or say whatever they want. They’re not authorized to break the law unless they have special permissions," he said. 

Chamberland affirmed that the main motivation for using undercover officers is, like most police work, to protect the public.

"We're always concerned about public safety. That's our number 1 concern," he said.

Stacey sees it differently, arguing that undercover agents create a chill effect on activism.

"The practice of infiltration and undercover policing of political protest is legally about making a case for conviction, but politically about creating a culture of fear about dissent."