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How I was spied on by the RCMP

by Jeff Davis, a librarian living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

In the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, the RCMP stepped up its surveillance of the radical left in Vancouver. After all, they knew a bunch of activists and anti-capitalists were organizing to oppose the Games, and when you’re throwing a multi-billion-dollar party, it looks bad when people start drawing attention to inconvenient truths like the criminalization of poverty, the erosion of civil liberties, corporate profiteering, and massive public debt.

Now, I was never directly involved in any anti-Olympic organizing, aside from attending the occasional rally. However, I was a volunteer at Spartacus Books (a local radical bookstore), and I helped organize the Vancouver Anarchist Bookfair. So I knew there was still a good chance that I would get caught up in the increased state surveillance of left-wing groups. Then a friend of mine discovered that the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (VISU) had been spying on him throughout 2008 and 2009, amassing a 600-page file on his activities. Like him, several other people had filed Access to Information requests and gotten interesting results. So I filed a request of my own to see what VISU knew about me.

Here’s what I got back:

* Document A [PDF] – 10 pages of reports on intelligence-gathering and surveillance
* Document B [PDF] – 9 pages of supporting documentation, mostly stuff that was publicly posted on the Internet

19 pages isn’t much, but it’s interesting that they had anything at all, since I have no criminal record and my activism was pretty innocuous. Document A is the more interesting one, since it shows what VISU was actually up to. Unfortunately they’ve redacted all the really juicy bits (their redactions are the large chunks of white space; I only blacked out a few addresses and phone numbers myself). Still, I think this stuff tells an interesting story.

As you can see, I was identified as a “person of interest” on 5 January 2009 because I was volunteering at Spartacus Books. I would guess that a lot of other Spartacus volunteers from around that time have files like this. I thus became the subject of an active, albeit minor, investigation.

It took them a while to figure out who I was, since I have a very common name. In February 2009, they finally connected me to a community wireless project I had been involved with, as shown in Document B. Interestingly, they’ve redacted their sources for some of this “open source” information, but bank records and the provincial corporate registry are two possibilities. They added what they found to several police databases — including PRIME-BC, which is used for criminal record checks, among other things. As it happens, I had been stopped and questioned by VPD officers for no apparent reason back on 14 January, but there’s no mention of that in these documents; either there was no record of the stop, or VISU missed the connection.

Pages A.7-8 indicate that the cops spied on a Vancouver Anarchist Bookfair meeting at Spartacus in March 2009, and then followed me when I left the store in an attempt to “establish my associations.” Two whole paragraphs have been redacted here, which is a shame since I’d really like to know what the cops had to say about the people I was visiting (VISU would have known who they were) and what happened while I was there. It’s worth noting that there is no mention of this incident in previously released documents about VISU’s surveillance of Spartacus. It’s a suggestive omission. What else happened at Spartacus that got left out of that release?

Speaking of omissions, my documents don’t include this list of persons of interest [PDF] from early 2010. VISU had apparently lost interest in me by May 2009, even though the bookfair didn’t happen until late June; there’s a large blank section on page A.4 that might have shed light on this if it hadn’t been redacted. I stopped volunteering at Spartacus and moved out of town that fall. It’s possible that they continued to actively investigate the store through the fall and winter of 2009-2010, but you can’t tell one way or another from these documents.

So there you have it. If you were wondering where that $900 million in Olympic security spending went, now you know: some of it was for spying on people who volunteer at non-profit bookstores.

Original posted 5 January 2012, © 2012 Jeff Davis and licensed under a Creative Commons License

Editor's note: It seems timely to repost this to GamesMonitor during the week leading up to the 6-months-to-go milestone to London 2012 and this weekend's Countering The Olympics event. The mainstream media narrative has been very much around security, but of course with little mention of the surveillance of dissent.

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