On Campus

Mounties spied on Occupy movement at U. Ottawa

RCMP contacted university security


The Mounties compiled a dossier on the Occupy Ottawa movement, scouring social media sites and even quizzing campus security after protesters held planning sessions at a university, newly released documents show.

Meeting notes show there were also plans to monitor the Confederation Park protest site using a camera mounted to the nearby offices of the National Capital Commission.

The camera is normally pointed at Ottawa’s city hall, the notes say. However, the NCC says it does not operate the camera and it did not use the device to monitor the protests from its offices.

The documents show NCC staff did keep close tabs on the makeshift encampment throughout the occupation, snapping dozens of photographs and reporting on the protesters’ activities.

Details about the surveillance tactics are only now coming to light, some 14 months after police ousted the Occupy Ottawa protesters from Confederation Park in late November 2011. It took the NCC until last week to provide documents in response to an access-to-information request from The Canadian Press.

The Occupy Wall Street activists who set up camp in New York City’s financial district in September 2011 spawned a global movement over what protesters perceived to be the widening social and economic gap separating the wealthiest one per cent from the rest of the population.

Soon similar protests spread to Canadian cities, including Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

Notes from a meeting held before the Ottawa occupation got underway show there was talk the protesters might also target Parliament Hill, the prime minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive, the Privy Council Office and the U.S. Embassy.

An RCMP intelligence report says that while a “peaceful demonstration” was expected in Ottawa, “violence and acts of disobedience cannot be discounted.”

The report shows the Mounties picked up Occupy Ottawa pamphlets and literature after the protesters met at the University of Ottawa. They also questioned campus security about the number of people in the room.

“Ottawa university security confirmed that there were approximately 50 person’s (sic) in attendance at the Oct. 6 planning meeting,” the document says.

It is not clear from the report whether any RCMP officers actually attended the meeting, nor whether the Occupy Ottawa planners knew of the Mounties’ presence at the university before, during or after the gathering.

Marc-Andre Massie, a spokesman for the RCMP’s ‘A’ Division, which is responsible for the National Capital Region, declined to say whether the protesters knew the Mounties were there.

“It would be inappropriate for us to speculate on different types of protest scenarios or intelligence-gathering techniques,” he said.

Massie added the force generally tries to work with protesters ahead of and during an event.

“It’s common practice,” he said. “Police partners respect peaceful protests and always try to maintain, when possible, open dialogue and constant contact with demonstration organizers before and during an event.”

Ottawa police prepared a similar intelligence report, which said investigators would be able to tell a lot about what the protesters planned to do by examining the types of sub-groups they formed for specific tasks, such as making posters and banners, handling logistics and providing legal support.

Wesley Wark, an expert in security and intelligence from the University of Toronto, said the RCMP must have deemed the Occupy Ottawa protesters a target worthy of keeping under watch.

“They have a legal mandate to do that, and they have the power to do it,” he said.

“I suppose the question is always given that the RCMP has limited resources, and there are lots of threats out there. There must have been a decision at the RCMP headquarters that this was a worthwhile target to pursue.”

How the Mounties came to that conclusion is another question.

“Part of the story, I suppose, is their assumption that it wasn’t likely to be a violent protest, but that begs the question of, well, why did they devote resources to it then if that was their determination?” Wark said.

“I suppose part of, if you like, the old-fashioned RCMP that they might be trying to change the culture of, was that even if something wasn’t felt to be a current threat, it was always a good idea to keep building a dossier on it. And that goes back a long way in the RCMP’s history.”

The RCMP was not the only organization devoting significant resources to the Occupy Ottawa protest.

The sheer volume of documents released under the access-to-information law suggests the occupation consumed a considerable amount of the NCC’s time and resources in October and November 2011.

It is unclear who used the camera on the NCC’s building at 40 Elgin St. to monitor the Oct. 15 kick-off rally.

According to a summary of one meeting, “A camera on the NCC building usually monitoring the city hall will be redirected towards the park for live monitoring of the ‘rally.'”

But spokeswoman Kathryn Keyes said the camera, while on the building, doesn’t actually belong to the NCC.

“The meeting that you were inquiring about had multiple stakeholders who participated,” she said. “The National Capital Commission does not have a camera on the … property at 40 Elgin.”

Keyes said she doesn’t know who the camera belongs to.

Notes from an earlier meeting, meanwhile, say one of the city’s security advisers indicated there were cameras that could look into Confederation Park for “security, damages and management” purposes, but the NCC would first need to allow the city to record on their property.

The documents also reveal the NCC, which owns Confederation Park, fielded dozens of complaints from people upset by the occupation. Concerns were also raised internally about rats, sexual assaults and drugs.

Other reports show police were called in at one point to pick up hundreds of syringes scattered throughout the park.

Police evicted the activists in November 2011.

—Steve Rennie

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