Political Policing and the Surveillance Matrix

Reflections for Organizers

On May 18, 2010, a group calling themselves the fffc1 claimed responsibility for the firebombing of a Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) branch in the Glebe, an upper-middle class neighbourhood in Ottawa. The incident occurred three months after the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and a month prior to the g8/g20 Summits in Toronto. The rbc was targeted by activists as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the bank’s role in funding the Tar Sands and the Olympics, as well as other socially and ecologically harmful investments.

One month later, Matt Cicero—one of the co-authors of this article—and Roger Clément were arrested and charged with arson. Clément ultimately pleaded guilty and received a sentence of four years for arson and mischief over $5,000 for two separate actions against different rbc branches. Cicero’s charges were stayed and then dropped as the Crown did not have enough evidence to proceed with a trial. Additionally, part of Clément’s plea agreement with the Crown involved the Crown dropping the charges against Cicero.

It is against this backdrop that the radical activist community in Ottawa learned that activist “Francois Leclerc” was, in fact, an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer named Denis Leduc. The revelation came during one of Clément’s bail hearings. Many Ottawa activists were shocked to discover that the man they knew and trusted was an undercover police officer. However, Leduc never provided any significant evidence in the cases against the three accused.

To radical political activists it likely comes as no surprise that they are routinely surveilled and monitored. However, we caution organizers to neither overestimate nor underestimate the power of modern state police agencies. The RCMP has spied on Tupperware parties,2 tried to invent a “fruit machine” that would identify queers,3 and also infiltrated the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) so deeply that it actually controlled the organization.4 In this article, we offer a critical analysis of how modern state-surveillance operates, its function, and who it targets. We believe an analysis and reflection on the shifting dynamics are crucial for revolutionary movements. The distrust and paranoia caused by infiltration and surveillance more generally is one of the key issues that the radical Left must grapple with. To date, “security culture” has been the main method to address this issue: a series of practices to limit the danger of being charged for engaging in illegal actions. While helping activists avoid criminal charges, we argue that security culture isn’t, by itself, up to the task of defending our movements from the political police. Indeed, it was never intended to address every question of surveillance and security.

When the tear gas from the Toronto g20 summit finally cleared, Ottawa activists learned that there had been not one, but two undercover police officers who had infiltrated the community; Leduc and a second officer with the alias “Shawn.” Leduc and Shawn focused on five groups: People’s Global Action (PGA) Bloc Ottawa, Common Cause Ottawa, the Indigenous Peoples’ Solidarity Movement-Ottawa (IPSMO), Exile Infoshop and Le Collectif du Chat Noir (CCN). Common Cause was an anarchist-communist group active in Ottawa, Hamilton, and Toronto. IPSMO is a small collective that combines anti-capitalist and anti-oppressive politics with Indigenous solidarity. Exile Infoshop was an anarchist bookstore in Ottawa, and finally, the CCN was an anarchist group that formed to mobilize people to protest the g8/g20 Summit in Toronto and was infiltrated by both undercover cops. Four of these groups were listed by the g8/g20 Joint Intelligence Group (JIG) as “domestic groups of concern,”5 as well as 22 other organizations including oxfam, Greenpeace, and the Council of Canadians.

Leduc infiltrated the radical Left in Ottawa through the Exile Infoshop. He then joined IPSMO where he organized for roughly a year and a half. During that time, the CCN formed and he was already in a position to join. In addition to infiltrating these two groups, he also attended private parties and social events, and befriended Ottawa activists.6 Meanwhile, Shawn first appeared in Ottawa in 2007, not long before the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SSP) meeting between Prime Minister Harper, us President Bush, and Mexican President Calderón in Montebello. He joined the anarchist group pga Bloc Ottawa. He disappeared soon after the SPP but resurfaced in 2008 when he joined the anarcho-communist group Common Cause. When the CCN began organizing, Shawn took the initiative to become Common Cause Ottawa’s representative for anti-Summit organizing.

The infiltrations by Leduc and Shawn were part of a larger intelligence gathering operation targeting anti-Olympics and anti-Summit organizing. In fact, as journalist Tim Groves notes, the RCMP referred to it as “likely the largest JIG ever assembled in Canada.”7 At least 14 police officers infiltrated activist groups, two of whom were the undercover OPP officers by the names of Brenda Carey and Bindo Showan (alias “Khalid Mohammed”) who spent a year infiltrating groups around the Guelph and Kitchener regions prior to the g8/g20 summit in 2010.

Showan was described by organizers as neither bright nor charismatic, but very resourceful. He was seemingly always available, had 24/7 access to a truck, and regularly offered to pay for food and alcohol. Although he was initially suspected as problematic, he mobilized his identity as a person of colour to build trust with organizers, meaning he would often frame suspicion of him as racism. Before finding his way into the Southern Ontario activist scene, Showan was spotted at a Hanlon Creek blockade, where some organizers described his activities as agitating and discomforting. Unfortunately, this information was not adequately communicated to organizers in the Guelph and Kitchener region. Shortly before the g8/g20 summit, Bindo was outed. Several organizers, particularly women, had already found his behaviour suspicious and creepy. For instance, he was persistent in driving people home after meetings, and often offered unsolicited hugs to women he did not know very well. He was finally confronted by Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance (SOAR) members after he showed up to a meeting to which he was not invited.

Conversely, Carey was described by organizers as friendly and intelligent. She built trust by telling activists she recently left an abusive relationship, and subsequently constructed her passion for social justice as a new path forward. Almost no one suspected Carey was an undercover officer until it was revealed during the preliminary hearings of the g8/g20 arrestees, where it was mentioned she wore a body pack (electronic recording device) at the very last meeting SOAR held.

How do we, as activists, grapple with political policing? We must first understand the goals of political police to begin to determine how they will behave. For example, assuming that infiltrators and political police are primarily concerned with building cases against activists by inciting them to engage in illegal actions can lead organizers to believe that people who do not engage in illegal actions can’t be infiltrators. Indeed, both Carey and Leduc managed to build trust because they didn’t conform to the stereotype of the agent provocateur. Carey and Leduc’s behaviour were closer to that of agent suppressants working to inhibit movement militancy. Although only Carey’s evidence was important for the criminal proceedings, the information gathered by both agents resulted in several counts of mischief and conspiracy charges against 20 SOAR activists who supposedly “orchestrated” the resistance to the 2010 g8/g20 summit.

At the heart of the issue is that security culture does not acknowledge or wrestle with the difference between political policing and law-and-order policing. While the latter is primarily focused on (re)producing capitalism and colonialism at the level of the everyday,8 political policing has as its goal the “preservation of the political regime” mainly through gathering intelligence.9 Political policing does not prioritize building cases, arresting “criminals,” prosecuting, or imprisoning targets; rather, it aims to use this information to control social movements in order to suppress them. Political police want the ability to decide what social movements do, even more than they want to destroy them.10 A good example of this is the FLQ, which, after the 1971 October crisis, was so heavily infiltrated by the RCMP that they controlled the organization. Instead of arresting FLQ activists the RCMP chose to guide the organization in a less violent direction, while keeping it going so they could gather more intelligence. Eventually the FLQ disbanded itself, to the disappointment of the RCMP who wished to keep it running. Political policing exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of the liberal capitalist state’s claims to be impartial and democratic while using secret police to engage in legal and illegal actions to repress and suppress movements for social justice. As Brodeur writes,

the tendency to confuse lawful dissent with illegal behaviour is, in my opinion, an insuperable feature of policing political activities; no legal safeguards can do away with this tendency. Striving to prevent political policing from hampering the right to dissent is as hopeless as trying to keep a stake from casting its shadow.11

For example, in the 1970s, “RCMP officers planted bombs, stole computer records, kidnapped activists, and committed arson” as part of their Disruptive Tactics program.12 Public exposure of the RCMP’s misconduct, a major scandal at the time, led to the Keable and Macdonald inquiries and later to the creation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). CSIS was created because, in the wake of the scandal, the RCMP was no longer trusted with their political policing duties. However, the RCMP are once again engaging in political policing, and CSIS, despite its own share of scandals, is more powerful than ever.

From Preventing Subversion to Averting Extremism

Although state surveillance of radical social movements is not a new phenomenon, the motivations and justifications for political surveillance operations targeting leftists have shifted over time.

During the Cold War, the RCMP closely monitored a range of left-wing groups, political parties, unions, Indigenous organizations, Quebec sovereigntists, Black nationalists, feminists, and lgbtq advocates, among other militant movements. These movements were not monitored for criminal justice purposes per se, but rather, spied on because they posed ideological and subversive threats to

the state. Today organizers are increasingly monitored not for their ideological positions, but for potential criminal acts. In particular, state and corporate security agencies claim organizers pose a threat to Canadian “public safety” and “critical infrastructure.” This discursive shift is key in understanding how state surveillance operates today and how we can resist it. For example, following the arrest of soar organizers prior to the g8/g20 summit, a joint Integrated Security Unit (ISU) claimed they were not targeted because of their ideological perspectives. In an intelligence report released through an access to information (ATI) request, the g8/g20 ISU writes that:

The existence of these ideologies and the grievances that emanate from them is not, in itself, problematic. In fact, public dissent based upon differences in opinion is intrinsic to any democratic system. The core of the problem, however, is the evolution of these philosophical differences into the advocating of criminal activity and the creation of significant public security threats.13

This example indicates that in the current political context, state-security forces limit their destructiveness and instead, draw on a powerful liberal dichotomy between “good” and “bad” protesting by identifying “violent” and “criminal” activities. Such dichotomies have a suppressive effect, as they allow law enforcement and security agencies to not only justify their surveillance operations, but also inhibit our movements’ ability to mobilize, and hinder evolving movement militancy.

More concerningly, we are seeing a trend where the RCMP and CSIS are reconceptualizing direct action and civil disobedience as threats to national security, while simultaneously reconfiguring and extending the concept of national security to “include governmental concerns with public safety and the economy.”14 In the past, militant tactics of dissent were indeed understood as criminal, but they were not necessarily understood as public safety issues or national security threats. In fact, the latter was reserved for “subversion, treason, espionage, and sedition.”15 This trend has blurred the boundaries between criminal law enforcement, national security assessment, and intelligence-gathering, returning us to the problem that the Macdonald commission identified in its investigation of RCMP surveillance activities in the 1970s.

Similarly, in 2015, it was revealed that the RCMP launched Project sitka—an open-resource surveillance project with a mandate to gather detailed intelligence on “serious criminality associated to large public order events with national implications,” particularly “Aboriginal public order events.”16 A document obtained through an ATI request reveals a systematic and detailed assessment of organizations across the country that the RCMP finds either suspect or affiliated with disruption (although not necessarily “criminal”), including the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, Unist’ot’en Camp, Idle No More, No One Is Illegal (NOII), Tar Sands Blockade, Stop TransCanada Energy East Project, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), Occupy Toronto, Dam Line 9, among others. The RCMP also assesses independent media outlets including the Toronto, Vancouver, and Halifax Media-Co-ops.

The collaboration between different stakeholders and the net-widening targeting of various activist groups reveals how the policing of dissent has also become systematically pre-emptive in its orientation. As Lesley Wood observes, instead of the traditional method of reactive policing, there’s been an emergence of intelligence-led policing (ILP) since the 1990s. ILP strategies seek to be “proactive, preventative, scientific and analytic.” These approaches use intelligence to “identify, prioritize, and intervene with protests (and others), to minimize [criminal] risk.”17 This demonstrates another significant shift from the past.

Between 1921 and 1984, the sole agency response for both intelligence gathering and federal law enforcement was the RCMP. In the early twentieth century, the RCMP was obsessed with the spectre of communism. In fact, in 1921 the North West Mounted Police and the Dominion Police were merged to create the RCMP in response to the Bolshevik revolution. The federal government feared a similar revolution would occur in Canada. By the 1970s, and with the emergence of the FLQ, the Security Service of the RCMP slowly became less interested in ideological threats, and more concerned with preventing criminality, “extremism,” and terrorism. Terrorism, at this time, was a fairly new concept. However, the FLQ’s militant activities, which used to be described as insurgent, began to be described as terroristic.

The discursive threat of terror as political activism has, in fact, become the norm. It has amplified the threat of “direct action,” which has provided further grounds for the surveillance apparatus. This was evident prior to the Toronto g8/g20 summit, where a joint-surveillance operation between CSIS, the RCMP, and various local police forces was formed at least two years before the event. According to the ISU, the information gathered was:

to be acquired by a wide variety of investigative techniques, including open source information analysis, a review of police occurrence reports, and more covert techniques such as the recruitment of confidential informants and undercover operations.18

The ISU focused on “suspects, persons of interest, and associates in relations to threats” and took steps to “detect, deter, prevent, investigate and/or disrupt these threats.” The isu adopted a “strategic and global perspective” to acquire intelligence by using “more covert techniques such as the recruitment of confidential informants and undercover operations,” and liaised with “domestic and foreign governments, law enforcement agencies and even corporations.”19

Invisible Infiltration

The secrecy that surrounds state and corporate surveillance and infiltration is one of the main obstacles that we face when trying to understand and resist it. As Cristina Flescer and Lesley Wood state,

repression of social movements is deliberately invisible—from surveillance to infiltration to the mysterious deaths of labour unionist and environmental whistleblower Karen Silkwood, or peace activist and Green Party founder Petra Kelly. Sometimes the media make repression invisible by failing to report it; other times repression is difficult to detect because the mechanisms used are subtle and institutionalized.20

Political police use surveillance and infiltration, and the fear of both, to create a political chilling effect not only on activists, but also on entire communities. Infiltration and surveillance sow distrust, confusion, and fear among movement members and can bring organizing to a halt. As Jean-Paul Brodeur and Stephane Leman-Langlois write, political policing “instilled dread into the whole populace through the stealthy character of its operation. The efficacy of the panopticon lies not in watching all but in having all chillingly believe that they are exposed to constant surveillance.”21 Several of the Ottawa activists we interviewed reported feeling frightened and more distrustful after learning about Leduc’s infiltration. These emotional reactions are precisely the effect that the political police are trying to provoke.

At times, security agencies deliberately publicize their activities when they believe this will benefit them. As Brodeur states, “[the] veil of secrecy may be lifted with the intent to intimidate and produce a ‘chilling effect’.”22 In the four cases discussed in this article, we have confirmation from the state that these individuals were police officers. Considering that Leduc did not provide any real evidence linking the people arrested with the rbc firebombing, it seems likely that the revelations aimed, at least in part, to disrupt organizing in the radical left in Ottawa.

Activists are almost never certain if we are under surveillance, or if someone is an infiltrator, making it harder to act effectively to stop the damage they cause, and should be careful about attempting to identify infiltrators. As Brian Glick writes,

it generally is best if you do not attempt to expose a suspected agent or informer unless you are certain of their role… Under most circumstances, an attempted exposure will do more harm than the infiltrator’s continued presence.23

In other words, the distrust infiltration causes can often become a bigger problem than the infiltration itself.

The police tactic of “snitch jacketing” activists—the practice of trying to convince activists that a non-informant is in fact an informant—provides an excellent example of the problem. Since almost anyone could be an infiltrator, activists can be convinced that sincere individuals are snitches, which can even put their lives in danger. The best-known case of this is that of Annie-Mae Aquash, an American Indian Movement (AIM) activist murdered by aim members after a successful campaign by the fbi to snitch jacket her.

But, even when accusations are correct, the act of making accusations itself can be disruptive. In the case of Shawn, at least one activist suspected him of being an infiltrator. As a result, he was privately asked to leave a semi-public anti-summit organizing meeting in Toronto. When he returned to Ottawa, activists in Common Cause Ottawa made a public statement defending him. Fortunately, the situation didn’t escalate; however, the controversy caused hurt, stress, tension, and distrust among people and organizations that were mobilizing against the g8/g20 Summit in Toronto.

In order to ensure that our efforts to defend ourselves are not counter-productive, it’s important that we stay grounded emotionally, and take action to defend our movements. Indeed, as the next section will demonstrate, this piece is part of this larger effort.

Organizing Against the Political Police-Machine

The secrecy around surveillance and infiltration makes it difficult to document, analyze, and expose. This secrecy on the part of the state is both an effort to be more successful in disrupting and controlling social movements, and an effort to avoid having their activities publicized as this could call the legitimacy of their actions, and even their organizations, into question. Despite their efforts to hide, we can learn about their activities through government inquiries, academic literature, journalism, former employees, other activists, ATI requests, and the occasional criminal prosecution. This information reveals that, despite a highly favourable political climate, larger budgets, and more power (especially post-September 11), the security establishment has flaws and weaknesses.

For instance, former CSIS agent J. Michael Cole describes CSIS as a painfully bureaucratic institution full of ignorant and poorly trained people more concerned with pandering to their supervisors than with being effective super spies. Although this might be an exaggeration, it is a helpful corrective to the myth of CSIS and state surveillance as ultra-competent and nearly omnipotent.

An even greater weakness of the political police is that, if their actions were widely known, they would face widespread condemnation. This is what happened in the Keable and Macdonald Commissions in Canada and with the Church Committee into the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) in the us. To a large extent, the fear of exposure is the reason that it is so incredibly difficult to get information about what the political police are actually doing. ati requests regarding the activities of the political police are one of the only means the public has of learning what the political police are doing. However, these institutions can refuse to provide information on anyone who is considered a subversive, or if it would reveal informants, intelligence, or if there is an ongoing investigation. For example, Matt Cicero has requested information from CSIS, the OPP, the RCMP, and the Ottawa Police Service (OPS). All but the ops would neither confirm nor deny the existence of any files on him. The OPS provided some files. However, the records provided about the RBC firebombing were heavily redacted.

Another weakness of the security establishment is that it is not easy to infiltrate social movements, making it difficult to gather evidence that can be used for convictions. Despite having two police officers infiltrate the radical activist community in Ottawa, and spending hundreds of thousands—possibly millions—of dollars in the investigation, the Crown was only able to gather enough evidence to convict and sentence one person. This demonstrated that when people and communities refuse to co-operate with police investigations, it creates a major barrier to police agencies’ ability to criminalize activists.

The greatest strength of the revolutionary Left is that we are trying to build a better world for everyone; a world based on freedom, dignity, and justice for all. Ultimately this vision and good organizing needs to anchor our responses to state repression. Organizing against political policing should always be tied to the broader organizing we’re doing against capitalism, colonialism, and oppression, as this has the potential to mobilize militant mass movements powerful enough to overthrow the government. This is precisely what state and corporate power fears; it is why the RCMP, in Project sitka, considered anti-capitalist movements one of their priority targets. Indeed, it is helpful to remember that even though the revolutionary Left in Russia was heavily infiltrated by the Okhrahna (the Russian secret police), it nevertheless succeeded in overthrowing the Czar and initiating a revolution. Interestingly enough, Trotsky thought agents could be used in our favour due to their lack of inhibitions in breaking the law.

Our strengths are in fighting against the oppressions that divide us from one another, and our ongoing efforts to “build a new world in the shell of the old.” Activists must be principled and act with integrity; whatever perceived short-term gains might be won by acting otherwise, the long-term gains made by determined, principled action are far greater. It is with these goals in mind that the Republic of New Africa developed a creed as part of their organization, stating, “I will steal nothing from a brother or sister, cheat no brother or sister, misuse no brother or sister, inform on no brother or sister and spread no gossip.”24

We believe that the revolutionary Left should be organizing against political policing. The first step is to learn more about the historical and present practice of political policing in Canada. This knowledge will enable us to better strategize on how to limit the power of the political police, and, ultimately, to abolish them. We must document, analyze, and expose the actions that the political police are taking against our movements and those of oppressed people. Specifically, we should be documenting our own experiences with surveillance and infiltration, publicizing what is already known, and organizing to get more access to information. One key to exposing the activities of Canada’s secret police is building grassroots media that is willing to cover these issues and able to reach a large audience. We also have to try to counteract the chilling effect that political policing produces, to build a fire around which people feel safe to speak and act freely. This will involve breaking down the fear, silence, stigma, and isolation that surrounds the subject. Two pragmatic paths that might prove fruitful are working to improving access to information legislation, and repealing Bill c-59, An Act Respecting National Security Matters, Liberal legislation that makes small improvements on Bill c-51 but which still gives too much power to csis and the Communications Security Establishment.

More importantly, we have to change how our own groups and movements behave. Activists in the us have done far more work than those of us in Canada to disseminate information about the actions of the fbi, cia, and other organizations, and they have many insights to share with us. In his study of cointelpro, Brian Glick lays out a number of best practices that activists should adopt. There are too many to list them all here, but some include: never speaking with the political police; not engaging in malicious gossip and not passing malicious gossip on; not engaging in interpersonal conflicts in public or through social media; whenever possible, addressing interpersonal conflict directly with the person(s) involved and establishing processes for resolving conflict; not assuming what you hear or read is accurate, and going to the source whenever possible.25 To deal with infiltration, groups should establish a process where people can express their fears without scaring others. However, we caution organizers to avoid attempting to expose agents unless there is hard evidence. Once an agent is exposed organizers must make sure that the information about them is spread as widely as possible.26

Unfortunately, our anti-oppression ethics can complicate this process. In the case of Showan, for example, white organizers who felt uncomfortable by his behaviour were called out for racism. While those who had a negative gut feeling about Showan were ultimately correct, better efforts and further reflections need to be made to resolve people’s discomforts while also confronting legitimate concerns of racism and our own complicity in white supremacy.

The state can also exploit our anti-oppressive practices. In Carey’s case for example, organizers were uncomfortable asking about her story of abuse and violence. What was clear was that the police knew how to exploit our feminist practices by formulating a sympathetic story. Perhaps this could have been avoided if we had a strong community where transformative justice, mutual respect, and trust were the norm.

Conversely, individual activists and activist communities need to make an effort to heal from traumatic incidents and work through feelings of paranoia. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and each other, to ask for help when we need it, and to offer help when we believe someone else needs it.

Finally, the revolutionary left needs to engage in thoughtful and strategic militant direct action. As Victor Serge wrote in his classic book What Every Radical Needs to Know About State Repression about the Okhrana (the Tsarist secret police): “Illegal action, over periods, creates habits and an outlook which can be considered the best guarantee against police methods.”27 Movements gain invaluable and necessary practical experience fighting both the police and the political police through engaging in illegal actions. That said, our movements need to be able to include everyone and value all the necessary work. This means that we must respect people’s choices about whether or not to engage in militant direct action. People who, for many different reasons—from needing to care for children to being at higher risk of arrest and police brutality—choose not to break the law, can still show solidarity with militants in diverse ways.

Concluding Remarks: State-Surveillance Strategies & Resistance

In light of the information discussed above, we conclude with three types of state-surveillance strategies and reflections on how we can resist them.

Data-Mining: Internet, Social Media, and Digital Tech

The most common form of state surveillance is open-source surveillance. This consists of information gathering, or “data-mining.” With the proliferation of social media and open access information, it’s easy for law enforcement to keep track of our movements on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. As organizers, we should be aware that our social media pages are always closely monitored. This should not come as a surprise, but too often organizers refer to this as “the criminalization of dissent.” We should remember that all states are policed states. Intelligence gathering is not illegal or contrary to the principles of liberal democracy. It is a core component of the state itself.

This should not take away from the potential of using social media and digital technology as an organizing tool, but activists should be more careful about what they put online. Obviously, we should not discuss or debate potentially illegal acts on a public forum, but there are some additional things we should take into consideration. For example, there is a trend of recording and live streaming demonstrations. While on-the-ground video recording helps document our movements, live streams are also easily monitored by law enforcement. Not only does this allow them to track on-the-ground mobilization, but those who are videotaped for live streaming are never asked for permission, which could put someone at risk. There have been many cases of police using journalists’ accounts to help with prosecutions. The revolutionary Left also needs to be more mature and conscientious about engaging in interpersonal conflicts via social media. Respectful debate is one thing, but too often activists attack, defame, and insult one another online. When this happens, we are providing the political police with the gasoline they need to burn our movements, never mind the damage that this type of pointless conflict does on its own.

Semi-Open: Plainclothes and “Internal” Snitches

The second surveillance strategy is semi-open, which may include the deployment of plainclothes officers at public events, or receiving tips by other organizers. Whether it’s a demonstration or a group panel, it should be assumed that some people within the crowd are government officials or law enforcement officers. This should not alarm or scare us. We know that the state does not have the resources or capacity to keep track of everyone and everything at all times. But, we should bear in mind that those involved within our movements often voluntarily provide information to the police. It is important to consider that the police do not ever work in our interests, and collaborating with them, even with the best of intent, goes against our long-term goals and favours the status quo. Yet, while some may refer to them as “snitches,” it is far too simplistic to condemn them on that basis. To merely suggest that these organizers come from either a place of false consciousness or malice is not fruitful. Rather than casting them out, we should be more alert and always critically assess how we publicly present information. In other words, we should accept that not everyone agrees with a diversity of tactics, and any decisions to engage in direct action or acts of civil disobedience should be made based on context-specific strategic and tactical considerations.

Infiltration: Undercover Police and Informants

The third and most perverse form of surveillance is infiltration and the use of undercover police officers, which has been the focus of this article. While it may seem that the internet and increased sophistication of digital technologies have made state surveillance both easier and more overt, infiltration continues to be an important tactic for state agencies in liberal democracies, with far more potential to adversely disrupt the lives of organizers. Because technological surveillance generates an abundance of information, it is difficult for state agencies to sort through the data. An agent or informer, however, can provide more “accurate” information. The informer can “ascertain specific plans and, if necessary, shift into the role of a direct agent provocateur and actively work to undermine said plans.”28 Under Canadian law, it is permissible for infiltrators to partake in covert surveillance operations. Law enforcement can seek warrants if interactions with organizers are electronically recorded. If bugs, wiretaps, or hidden cameras are used, the police can present an affidavit to a judge explaining “the reasons for interception, its instruments and its target(s).”29 The judge can be satisfied that the authorization would be “in the best interests of justice,” and “where persuaded that the intercept is the last, best investigative tool available to police.”29 In other words, rather than drawing solely on discourses of civil liberties and Charter rights, radical anti-capitalist activists must remind themselves that the law will not always be on their side, and in fact can be detrimental to their goals.

It is important to remember that while overcoming systems of domination may seem like a daunting task, there are always possibilities for resistance and social justice. We believe collective direct action—no matter how small—can contribute towards justice and social transformation, whether it is protecting an undocumented migrant from deportation, or whether it is preventing repressive increases to state surveillance powers from passing through parliament. •


1 It was never revealed what the acronym stood for.

2 Gary Kinsman, Diester K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman, Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies (Toronto: Between The Lines, 2000), 1.

3 Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile, The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010), 176.

4 Jean-Paul Brodeur, The Policing Web (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

5 Tim Groves, “Document: G20 Domestic Groups of Concern from ocap to oxfam,” Toronto Media Co-op, 2012.

6 Matt Cicero, “Infiltrated! How to Prevent Political Police from Undermining Crassroots Solidarity,” Briarpatch, May 2017.

7 Groves, “Document: g20 Domestic Groups of Concern from ocap to oxfam.”

8 Elizabeth Comack, Racialized Policing: Aboriginal People’s Encounters with the Police (Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing, 2013), 59-60.

9 Jean-Paul Brodeur and Stephane Leman-Langlois, “Surveillance-Fiction or Higher Policing?” in The New Politics of Surveillance and Visibility, ed. Richard Victor Ericson, and Kevin D.Haggerty (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2006), 180.

10 In his essay “High and Low Policing in Post 9/11 Times,” Brodeur quotes the Security Intelligence Review Committee (sirc)—an “independent” entity that oversees CSIS operations: “We are also cognizant of the danger in destroying one group, as opposed to watching it, another which is worse may be created.”

11 Jean-Paul Brodeur, “High and Low Policing: Remarks about the Policing of Political Activities,” Social Problems, 30 no. 5, (1983), 511-512.

12 Larry Hannant, “What’s in My File? Reflections of a “Security Threat,” in Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies, ed. Gary Kinsman, Diester K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman (Toronto: Between The Lines, 2000), 217.

13 2010 g8 Summit—isu jig Intelligence Report.

14 Anna Pratt, “Wanted by the Canada Border Services Agency,” in Criminalization, Representation, Regulation: Thinking Differently about Crime, ed. Deborah R. Brock, Amanda Glasbeek, and Carmela Murdocca (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2014), 297.

15 Pratt, “Wanted by the Canda Border Services Agency,” 298.

16 Project sitka, 6.

17 Lesley J. Wood, Crisis and Control: The Militarization of Protest Policing (London: Pluto, 2014), 127-128.

18 2010 g8 Summit—isu jig Intelligence Report.

19 Ibid.

20 Cristina Flescer and Lesley Wood, ”Repression and Social Movements,” Interface 3 (May 2011), 1.

21 Brodeur and Leman-Langlois, “Surveillance-Fiction or Higher Policing?” 178.

22 Brodeur, “The Policing Web,” 230.

23 Brian Glick, cointelpro Revisited—Spying and Disruption, 19.!/SugahData/Government/COINTELPRO.S.pdf

24 Safiya Bukhari, “What is Security? And the Ballot or the Bullet…Revisited,” in The War Before: the True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping Faith in Prison & Fighting for Those Left Behind, ed. Laura Whitehorn (New York: The Feminist Press, 2010), 37.

25 Glick, cointelpro Revisited—Spying and Disruption, 19.

26 Ibid., 21.

27 Victor Serge, What Every Radical Should Know About State Repression (New York: Ocean Press, 2005), 79.

28 Steve Hewitt, Snitch!: A History of the Modern Intelligence Informer (New York: Continuum, 2010), 18.

29 Brodeur and Leman-Langlois, “Surveillance-Fiction or Higher Policing?,” 3.

30 Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-terrorism (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2015), 124.