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Violent Extremist Infiltrators In Peaceful Protests? Not So Fast

12/11/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 12/11/2016 05:12 EST
Camarade Tova/Flickr
Une manifestante tient le coup pacifiquement.

A recent intelligence report warns that peaceful anti-petroleum protests could be infiltrated by extremists to incite violence. While the report itself was just released, the actual study likely pre-dates the new Liberal government. It was probably intended as a companion to Bill C-51, which many Canadians have seen as an attempt to curtail the right to demonstrate on hot-button issues like proposed pipelines.

Infiltration of peaceful protests is a concern I have shared for years, especially after the Quebec police were caught red-handed (or in this case, yellow-soled), attempting to turn a peaceful demonstration into a violent brawl at the North American Summit held in Montebello, Quebec in August, 2007.

In that case, the Council of Canadians and Canadian unions had planned a peaceful event to highlight concerns regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement. During the otherwise peaceful event, a group of three male demonstrators appeared determined to incite violence, one of them clearly carrying a large rock. They ignored repeated calls from event organizers to back away from the line of riot police and to put the rocks down. Once identified as police provocateurs, they pushed past the riot police and were arrested although the three men were not amongst the official tally of (twp men and two women) arrested that day.

While they were being subdued on the ground, protesters became aware that the rock-wielding 'protesters' in their midst were actually wearing the same police issue black footwear with unique yellow markings as the riot police. Photographs were duly taken and given this undeniable evidence, a few days later, the Quebec police were forced to admit that these were indeed their undercover officers. The police account did not match with eyewitness testimony and conflicted with video footage of the event. Ironically, the undercover cops blew their cover by threatening violence.

The question is why? Clearly they weren't trying to protect the right to peaceful protest or even to gather intelligence as they alienated everyone present with their violent and threatening actions. It is hard to conclude anything other than an intention to disrupt the protest, discredit the protesters and mar the message.

This incident, which received media attention at the time, should have put all Canadians on notice that our democracy was under serious threat from nefarious forces within the security and political establishment of our country, forces willing to resort to under-handed, anti-democratic, violent and even criminal activity to advance their agenda.

In a healthy, participatory democracy, peaceful protest is a right and an important mechanism for the public to register their views and concerns. Attempts by the 'establishment' to tarnish the image of well-meaning Canadians who take to the streets to send a message to governments between elections is a serious violation of fundamental democratic principles.

The violence that overtook the G20 protests in Toronto three years later should have received much greater scrutiny by both the media and the Canadian public. Serious violations of civil rights occurred and have been the subject of numerous investigations, but was there adequate probing of who the violent offenders were? Vandalism is a fact of life but we must be careful to not dismiss the possibility that it could be something more.

Although we now have a new government that appears to be making good on its promises to restore our democracy and listen to the Canadian public, they may need our help to tame and curtail the established elements in our midst that pursue an agenda counter to our collective interests and our democratic practices.

The reality is that we live in a world where we must always question the official story and keep our radar up at all times!

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