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Civil liberties group alleges Ottawa snooped on pipeline opponents

An aerial view in Kitimat, B.C., Tuesday Jan. 10, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Opponents of controversial pipeline projects planned for British Columbia say Ottawa has unleashed its spies on them.

It's certainly no secret the Conservative government has, to say the least, an antipathy towards environmental organizations allied with B.C. First Nations to try to stop the Northern Gateway and Kinder-Morgan oil sands pipelines.

But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association alleges the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) are breaking the law by snooping on legitimate groups.

The association announced Thursday it would file complaints against CSIS and the Mounties with their respective watchdog agencies, The Canadian Press reported.

The group claims the activities include illegal searches and, in the case of CSIS, spying on the peaceful, democratic activities of Canadians, which violates its mandate.

It also says information was passed on to petroleum companies and the National Energy Board, which was conducting a joint review of Northern Gateway.

The accusation echoes claims the government's electronic-eavesdropping arm, Communications Security Establishment Canada, spied on Brazilian mining and energy authorities and shared the information with Canadian firms.

The association has sent letters to the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP outlining its concerns and asking them to investigate.

[ Related: CSEC not spying on Canadians, head of eavesdropping agency insists ]

“What we’re hoping here is to find out more about what’s happened,” executive director Josh Paterson told a news conference in Vancouver, according to the Globe and Mail.

It's illegal for the government to spy on people and organizations that pose no threat to public safety, Paterson said.

“It’s a question of fundamental human rights,” Paterson said in the association's news release “There are plenty of undemocratic countries where governments spy on people that they don’t agree with. That’s not supposed to happen in Canada.

"Canadians have the right to participate in important public debates without fear of being spied on and intimidated by our own security, intelligence, and police agencies."

The association alleges one of the meetings infiltrated was at a Kelowna church, where the environmental group Dogwood Initiative's Celine Trojan spoke to retirees and church members.

The complaints were based on information published in news reports and via access-to-information requests.

Last November in the Vancouver Observer, reported documents and emails the paper obtained show Ottawa was monitoring groups opposed to oil-sands development and the pipelines that would ship bitumen crude to the West Coast for export.

[ Related: Journalist claims that Canada’s spy activity extends well beyond Brazil ]

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he was "shocked and disgusted" to learn one of the meetings he'd attended had been spied on.

"This is the kind of thing we’d expect to see in a police state, and it’s a violation of our freedom of speech and freedom of assembly," he said in the association's news release.

There's no comment at this writing from the RCMP or CSIS.

The joint review panel submitted its report on Northern Gateway in December, giving the project conditional approval subject to about 200 conditions being met.

The government has until late June to make decision on whether to green-light the pipeline and the export terminal to be built at Kitimat, on the northern B.C. coast.