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

District of Kent highlights accomplishments in 2019 report

District staff have been busy and are getting busier

Chilliwack FC hires Mark Lillicrap to oversee COVID return-to-play guidelines

Lillicrap will serve as CFC’s first-ever Health and Safety Officer

Huge month for Chilliwack real estate in July

Average selling price up 12 per cent with sales numbers not seen since boom of 2017

Local B.C. Hydro workers save stranded cat

Cat somehow ended up on top of a hydro pole

OPINION: Grade school students don’t have a voice during COVID pandemic

As adults weigh pros and cons of returning kids to school, is anyone asking kids what they think?

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Over half of Americans oppose Trump tariff on Canadian aluminum: survey

The survey was conducted Aug. 7 to 9 among 1,513 Canadians and 1,003 Americans

Oh baby, what a birthday gift: $2.8M raised to help B.C. boy with rare disease

‘We are very thankful to everybody,’ Aryan Deol’s father says

‘Huckleberry’ the bear killed after B.C. residents admit to leaving garbage out for videos

North Shore Black Bear Society said it was local residents who created a ‘death sentence’ for bear

Police investigating after insults, expletives yelled at federal minister’s staff

A 90-second video circulating on social media appears to have been shot by the person who was yelling

5 B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

Lost dog reunited with family 3 months after going missing on remote B.C. trail

‘The poor thing was skin and bones,’ says one of its Vancouver Island rescuers

B.C. marine ecologist wants Canada to sink its teeth into shark protection

Gulf Islands scientist says top predator under shocking threat from human behaviour

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

Most Read