‘Splinter group’ protests worry Indian Affairs: documents

The federal government has developed a “hot spot” reporting system to monitor First Nations protests that includes the involvement of several departments, police and intelligence agencies, according to documents provided to APTN National News.

APTN National News
OTTAWA-
-The federal government has developed a “Hotspot” reporting system to monitor First Nations protests that includes the involvement of several departments, police and intelligence agencies, according to documents provided to APTN National News.

The documents also show that Indian Affairs has divided First Nations protests into those organized by band councils and those organized by “splinter groups,” which the department concluded were “harder to manage” and “unpredictable.”

The internal Indian Affairs and RCMP documents appeared to have been drafted in preparation for the June 29, 2007, National Day of Action, which eventually lead to the shutdown of one of Canada’s busiest highways, the 401 in Ontario, for several hours.

The documents were first obtained through the Access to Information Act by Russ Diabo and Shiri Pasternak for the First Nations Strategic Bulletin. They also published an article based on the documents for The Media Co-op.

The documents reveal the scope of Ottawa’s monitoring of First Nations protest across several government departments including Indian Affairs, Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Privy Council Office, along with the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The documents show that Indian Affairs, while usually out of the spotlight during these events, plays a pivotal role in relaying information to other departments and authorities. The department has developed a Hotspot reporting system designed to provide “continuous environmental monitoring” and “information dissemination” or existing and emerging risks.” The department has also developed a “Hotspot” binder to summarize and analyze “case files.”

The Hotspot system includes input not only from Indian Affairs, but also from Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada’s regional offices, federal negotiation teams, police intelligence and Indian affairs media services. It also seeks “synergy” with Public Safety reporting systems that include CSIS, RCMP, and the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre.

The Indian Affairs document, dated March 30, 2007, noted there was a need to “improve communications and collaborations” between departments and agencies.

“It became evident that most (law enforcement) officials are ignorant regarding INAC roles and responsibilities and mandate…Conversely, the role of law enforcement, and an understanding of their related capacities appears also lack from an INAC perspective,” the document quotes from a separate document titled, Identifying Collaborative Efforts to Deter and Mitigate the Impact of Organized Crime on First Nations Governance and Well Being.

The document noted that there “was payback” for improving communications and quotes Ron George, who lead the OPP’s Aboriginal Relations Team during the Caledonia crisis.

“What distinguishes Caledonia from Ipperwash is that (operational) communications was established quickly and maintained,” George is quoted as saying. “Though the OPP never contemplated an event of that complexity.”

Dudley George was shot and killed during the 1995 occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario.

Indian Affairs, however, makes a distinction between types of protests, stating in its presentation that those authorized by band councils are easier to manage than those driven by so-called splinter groups.

While the document doesn’t specifically detail the definition of splinter groups, it seems to encompass First Nations community members who act without band council backing.

The department listed the Six Nations land seizure in Caledonia, Ont., the Tyendinaga Mohawk rail blockades and quarry occupations in Ontario and a highway blockade near Grassy Narrows, Ont., as protests all lead by splinter groups, according to the department presentation titled, Aboriginal Hot Spots and Public Safety.

The documents shows that Indian Affairs officials refuse to recognize these groups over concerns it could undermine the elected band councils.

“Incidents led by splinter groups are arguable harder to manage as they exist outside negotiation processes to resolve recognized grievances with duly elected leaders,” said the document. “We seek to avoid giving standing to such splinter groups so as not to debase the legally recognized government.”

The document also says some protests involve “multiple competing power groups” that “involve illicit agendas” like smuggling. The involvement of warrior societies and non-Aboriginal counter protest groups also “complicated” situations.

Department officials prefer to deal with band council leaders who organize events that “tend to be transparent and disciplined,” according to the document.

First Nations leaders often talk tough about impending conflict arising from unresolved issues between Canada and First Nations, but when the real possibility of violence rises, they usually back away, the document said.

“There is a tendency to predict extremism as a consequence of problems in Canada/First Nations relations,” said the document. “But where there is a potential for actual violence, there is a tendency to dissuade members from participating in the event.”

The document says the majority of First Nations protests, or 66 per cent, are triggered by lands and resources grievances, followed by quality of life concerns, at 28 per cent, and governance problems at about six per cent.

The document said that most protests are triggered by land development activities on traditional territories.

These underlying, rights-driven grievances make First Nations protest different from labour and political protests, according to the RCMP presentation, titled, RCMP Operational Response to Aboriginal Occupations and Protest.

“The law and context of Aboriginal protests is fundamentally different than non-Aboriginal protests,” said the presentation, dated April 3, 2007. “The assertion of rights is a fundamental and defining characteristic of Aboriginal protests.”

The RCMP document also notes that police may get political pressure to end protests with force as a result of the “exorbitant” costs associated with handling these types of events.

“The exorbitant policing costs associated with managing these events can lead to political pressure on the police to act more quickly or use force to resolve the situation,” said the document.

The “unique” nature of First Nations protests also put police forces in awkward situations, facing criticism from all sides, creating a frustrating situation for police.

“The often disparate and fracture nature of these events can lead the police to become the proverbial ‘meat in the sandwich’ and the subject of negative public sentiments,” said the document. “Perception of a two-tiered approach to enforcement can generate significant criticism…because there are limitations on what the police can negotiate and success often depends on others, the role of the police can become frustrating.”

APTN was also provided a number of Indian Affairs “Hot Spot” bulletins from August and November 2010.

They shows the department reporting on everything from Kanesatake residents in Quebec opposing development plans on their territory, to a Stz’uminus First Nations flotilla blocking commercial fishing boats on the opening day of the geoduck fishery.

The bulletins also included reports on a planned, flood-triggered evacuation in Dauphin River First Nation, Man., and a possible contamination from mineral oil leaking from two transformers on the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.