by Leveller Staff

Photo: Jenna Amirault
Photo: Jenna Amirault

Students at Carleton University disrupted an event organized by the Infrastructure Resilience Research Group (IRRG) on Nov. 15.

The official theme of the 2016 Symposium on Security and Infrastructure Resilience was “The Challenges of Dealing with Natural Resource Development Projects and Activism.” To assess the “threat environment,” the training workshop was attended by “prosecutors, lawyers, regulators, law enforcement, industry and industry association representatives,” according to the university’s event description, to determine how legal mechanisms, including the Anti-Terrorism Act, can be used to deal with “violent acts targeting critical national infrastructure.”

Students mobilized in the Unicentre and marched to the River Building — recently renamed Richcraft Hall after a large corporate donation — to disrupt the event. Students were met by campus security guards, whom they allege threatened them with the possibility of trespassing charges.

“It is completely inappropriate and even dangerous of the University to host this event on our campus, where there are Muslim students whose lives are threatened by Bill C-51, where there are Indigenous students whose land is being destroyed without their consent and where there are Black students who are consistently targeted by police,” Carleton student Samiha Rayeda told the Leveller. “This is especially troublesome since our tuition is paying for this institution and yet we were not welcomed at an event that is threatening our lives.”

Students held signs that read “Activism is not a crime,” and “First Nations defending their lands are not terrorists.”

An audio recording of the symposium which was posted on Facebook emphasizes how the security establishment and its academic and industry counterparts construe dissent as violent extremism, and even as terrorism.

As students shouted “Indigenous sovereignty is not terrorism,” Martin Rudner, the IRRG’s Research and Analysis Coordinator, referred to the ongoing protest as “violent.” Moments later, the fire alarm sounded and the building was cleared.

Ashley Courchene, Vice-President of Student Services with the Carleton University Students’ Association, was privy to what he described as a “heated discussion” between protesters and Rudner over the issue of whether or not water could be defined as critical infrastructure worth protecting. During the exchange, Rudner declared that one of the IRRG’s goals was to “protect Aboriginals from themselves.”

Courchene told the Leveller that he found the purpose of the IRRG Symposium contradictory to the University administration’s claim that the institution encompasses the spirit of reconciliation.

“I will be seeking answers through the Aboriginal Education Council, a board that reports directly through the President to the Board of Governors and Senate,” he said.

The Facebook event page for the protest highlights a long list of symposium participants who represent industry and the security and intelligence community. The list includes the former Assistant Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), former officials from the Department of Justice, a former strategic analyst at CSIS who now runs a private company to “provide… advice and training to protect you and your agency from the threat of terrorism,” a former RCMP Assistant Commissioner, the head of security for the Site C Dam construction project, the Director of Corporate Security for Irving Oil Ltd., a Vice-President of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, and a Director of the Canadian Gas Association, among representatives of other private security companies.

Participants paid between $660 and $835 to attend the event, depending on how early they registered.

This event came after the release of an RCMP report by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in early November. The report, titled Project SITKA: Serious Criminality Associated to Large Public Order Events with National Implications was published on March 16, 2015 by the National Intelligence Coordination Centre as part of a concerted effort to reduce the “threat, incidence and prevalence of serious criminality associated to Aboriginal public order events.” It cited an increase in protests in 2013, coinciding with Idle No More and anti-shale gas protests surrounding the Elsipogtog First Nation in southeastern New Brunswick.

Project SITKA identified 313 Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists, and created protester profiles of 89 individuals it considered as threats, predominantly surrounding “natural resource development, particularly pipeline and shale gas expansion.” The profiles were uploaded into criminal intelligence and police reporting databases and made available both to frontline officers and to law enforcement partners. The surveillance efforts and release of this information prompted strong backlash from Indigenous activists.

“The collaboration between energy and resource development companies and the Canadian justice system only criminalizes those who are protecting their necessities of life, whether it be land or water,” said Courchene.

“It is indicative of the ongoing policies of dispossession and extermination faced by Indigenous communities, past and present.”

The IRRG website has since removed all mention of the Nov. 15 event including the agenda, and removed the entire “people” section which listed all of its partners and bios. Rudner’s profile page has also been taken down.

This article was first published in the Leveller Vol. 9, No. 3