Thunder Bay·Audio

Bill C-51: First Nation chief warns labour activists about jail time

The chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inniniwug in northern Ontario filed an access to information request on Thursday in an attempt to discover the extent of government spying on his community. He's calling on other First Nations to do the same to show the threat to freedoms posed by Bill C-51.

RCMP spied on Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris during 2008 mining dispute

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris in front of the Ontario Court of Appeal on Thursday, expressing his concerns about Bill C-51. (Alvin Fiddler/Twitter)

A First Nation leader, who went to jail defending his community's traditional territory in northern Ontario, is warning other activists about the risks of government spying posed by Bill C-51.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris already has the documents to show that the RCMP and government officials were spying on his community during a mining dispute in 2008.

He filed an access to information request on Thursday to discover the extent of the surveillance and called on other First Nations to do the same.

"Eventually if you're categorized as a terrorist, you're going to be spending the rest of your life in prison and for myself, spending time in jail for our action, I didn't really appreciated that," Morris told CBC News. "It was humilating."

Morris and five other leaders of Kitchenuymaykoosib Inninuwug  were jailed for more than two months for protesting against a mining company operating on the community's traditional lands. The Court of Appeal eventually ordered their release and Ontario bought out the company's claims in the area.

 'Am I going to be allowed to travel?'

The experience has left Morris wary of government powers and worried about travelling outside his remote community, 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

"I always am afraid that my phone is tapped," he said. "At times I feel for my safety. Going through airports, if I have to go through security, am I going to be allowed to travel? I feel threatened too."

Despite his fears, Morris decided to accept an invitation to speak about his experience and his concerns in Toronto on Thursday, during a forum on Bill C-51. People need to know that just because their actions are peaceful, they are not immune to government spying, he said.

An excerpt of an RCMP document obtained through access to information requests shows the police were keeping tabs on Kitchenuhmaykoosib, and that they were aware of the peaceful nature of the protest. (CBC)

"To co-exist in peaceful harmony as our elders taught us, that's the thing that leads us most," Morris said. "We don't go out blocking roads or burning things up. We are peaceful."

Last month Morris wrote a letter to his MP, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, asking him to withdraw his support for Bill C-51. 

"The legislation is clear: our security agencies can only target those who pose a risk to Canada, and not those engaged in legitimate dissent," a spokesperson for Rickford told CBC News in an email at the time.