Activist Rachel Small poses for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, November 29, 2019. An activist concerned about mining-industry abuses found it “kind of creepy and unsettling” to recently learn the RCMP compiled a six-page profile of her shortly after she turned up at a federal leaders debate during the 2015 election campaign. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Mounties defend social-media profiling after assembling portrait of activist

RCMP combed through online sources detailing language fluency, work experience and Facebook friends

The RCMP is defending its practice of profiling people by scouring their social-media postings, saying the police force lawfully obtains information with the aim of protecting Canadians.

A Toronto activist concerned about mining-industry abuses recently learned the Mounties compiled a six-page profile of her shortly after she showed up at a federal leaders debate during the 2015 election campaign.

An analyst with the RCMP’s tactical internet intelligence unit ultimately found no indication that Rachel Small, an organizer with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, was involved in criminal acts.

Small said it was “kind of creepy and unsettling” to see the RCMP profile, which came to light years later through an access-to-information request.

Sgt. Penny Hermann, an RCMP spokeswoman, said the force acknowledges the constitutional right to protest peacefully, but adds the police must do due diligence to ensure there are no threats or concerns for public safety.

“As Canada’s national police force, the RCMP uses various technical investigative tools and methods to lawfully obtain information or evidence in order to protect Canadians,” she said.

“To maintain the integrity of investigations, we do not disclose specific techniques or tools used in the course of a particular investigation.”

For the profile of Small, the RCMP combed through online sources detailing her age, address, education, language fluency, work experience and Facebook friends in the activist community.

“It’s disturbing to me. It’s creepy. And it makes me wonder, what were they hoping to do with this information?” Small said.

ALSO READ: Canadian activist says RCMP profile about her is ‘kind of creepy and unsettling’

“I had no reason to think that I personally would be followed or surveilled, or anything like that.”

Groups that defend the right to public protest say police monitoring of activists can have a chilling effect that discourages people from speaking out or taking part in demonstrations.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is concerned about agencies compiling profiles of people when there are no reasonable grounds to believe they are involved in criminal activity.

“The fact that someone’s an activist should not be enough to render them the subject of suspicion by law enforcement,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the association’s fundamental-freedoms program.

“That, to me, is a problem in a democratic society.”

Privacy laws do not adequately reflect the expectations and nuances of the social-media age, said Meghan McDermott, staff counsel for policy with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

A Facebook user might let online friends know it’s their birthday, but the law treats that as if the person has put a sign on their front lawn declaring the fact, she said.

There should be a discussion among civil liberties advocates, legislators, police and the public about “what is acceptable for law enforcement to be looking at, and what are thresholds that allow them to look into that information,” Zwibel said.

Before questions about Small’s profile arose, the RCMP’s internal-audit section had begun examining the force’s use of open sources in the context of the Charter of Rights and the various statutes under which the Mounties operate.

The RCMP says the resulting audit report is expected to be made public this summer.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mount Woodside bike trail planning underway

With this week’s Council approval, planning can begin

PHOTOS: Sts’Ailes students scale glaciers as part of mountain skills and wilderness program

‘It’s not just about taking kids hiking, it’s actually about connecting them to the land’

Chilliwack man who sexually assaulted young boys released from prison

Statutory release for Don Putt who Parole Board calls an ‘untreated sex offender’

Fraser Cascade superintendent announces retirement

Dr. Karen Nelson has worked for School District 78 for 29 years

Not over yet: Mixture of snow, freezing rain on way as winter storm tapers in Lower Mainland

Environment Canada releases weather alert for Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley

Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Should winter tires be mandatory in the Lower Mainland?

ICBC dial-a-claims go up as winter storm takes toll

Canada Post driver in hospital after ice smashes windshield at Massey Tunnel

Incident happened on Richmond side of the Massey Tunnel

Abbotsford bank ATM robbery thwarted by woman standing her ground

Police arrest alleged known robber running down South Fraser wearing balaclava

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Fire truck, police car hit in chain of crashes on Hwy. 99

‘People weren’t paying attention,’ says Surrey assistant fire chief

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

Most Read