The Canadian Armed Forces are supposed to be our protectors, but for them to think that snooping on peaceful protesters is part of their duty is extremely disturbing. What happened to the Black Lives Matter movement is an affront to our democracy we should never tolerate.
Recent reports of how military intelligence monitored and compiled data on BLM protesters as part of their pandemic response in Ontario long-term care homes should be of grave concern to all Canadians. How Black people and their supporters engaged in peaceful protest against racism and police brutality would be considered such a security threat as to warrant monitoring by military intelligence defies comprehension.
The spying was initiated by the Canadian Joint Operations Command, which directs missions in Canada and abroad. That spying on peaceful protesters is part of the military mindset is quite troubling, even more so when you consider no one in high command saw this for what it was: a threat to our democratic values. They let it happen.
The military’s explanation that information on the protesters was collected as part of its pandemic response in Ontario is a ludicrous excuse. “To ensure the movement of our personnel/vehicles to support Ontario LTCF (Long Term Care Facilities) would not interfere with BLM solidarity activities, preliminary research was undertaken,” a Defence Department statement says. “To be clear, this work was only done with the intent to avoid disruption to both planned BLM activities and CAF operations.” Balderdash.
Remember, the snooping included mining social media accounts to identify “major actors” supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ontario called for federal help to deal with the long-term care home crisis in April 2020, and the military were dispatched for a two-month mission. The soldiers did a terrific job, earning praise from a grateful province. But Black Lives Matter protests had nothing to do with the work in the seven Toronto-area homes requiring help. The protests in cities across the province occurred in early June when the soldiers were more than a month into the job. There was no disruption to avoid, and nothing was happening on the streets that needed intelligence-gathering.
Even if it were necessary, that is a police job. But there was absolutely no need. Around the province, people exercised their rights as Canadians, marching peacefully against what they saw as racial injustice. During the June 5 protest in Ottawa, which was part of the monitoring exercise, many came with their children.
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau showed up with a number of ministers, including, ironically, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. Perhaps he needed monitoring.
There was no instance of protesters engaging in violence, and even if they did, we have police to deal with such situations. So, it is difficult to understand why military intelligence would insert themselves into a situation that had nothing to do with them. It shows how far the military has strayed from our norms.
The Forces are now clutching at straws trying to explain a clear violation of Canadians’ rights. It shouldn’t matter they were targeting a Black organization. Anyone who cares about civil rights should be alarmed that the military would exploit an honourable mission to spy on Canadians.
This is the same military that developed an ill-fated plan to use propaganda techniques against Canadians during the pandemic. Why military brass would indulge in such questionable practices is anyone’s guess, but it’s something Sajjan and top military brass should examine seriously.
CAF is an important institution, which people admire and trust, but spying on peaceful protesters is an extreme overreach. It is the kind of thing that erodes trust and the government should ensure it never happens again.
Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator.