VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association released thousands of pages of heavily redacted documents Monday purportedly showing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service illegally monitored groups opposing a pipeline project.
The association said the agency gathered information on environmental and indigenous activists and then shared the data with the National Energy Board and major oil industry players. The activists were fighting to stop the since canceled Northern Gateway Pipelines, a proposal calling for 731-mile-long twin pipelines that would have moved diluted bitumen from Alberta to British Columbia.
"We allege this is in violation of the law," Meghan McDermott, a lawyer with the civil liberties group, said at a news conference. "We also allege the spying activity was discouraging people from associating with environment groups and discouraging people form expressing their own opinions."
The rights group said the Security Intelligence Review Committee, a government body responsible for oversight of the spy agency, held secret hearings in 2015 investigating the agency's actions following a complaint from the association. The intelligence agency was later forced to release the documents.
McDermott said witnesses who testified at the hearing were prevented from speaking about their testimony publicly.
"This all amounts to a shocking violation of free expression," she said.
The oversight committee ruled after the hearings that the intelligence agency had not committed any wrongdoing.
In a statement, the intelligence agency said it "investigates activities that fall within the definition of threats to the security of Canada and reports them to the government of Canada."
McDermott said the civil liberties group plans to go to federal court to have the redactions removed from the roughly 8,000 pages of documents and challenge the committee's ruling.
Alexandra Woodsworth, an activist with the citizen action group Dogwood BC, said the spy agency's activity isn't something Canadians would expect.
"To me this is one of the more shocking examples that I have encountered of the grip big oil has on our democracy here in Canada," Woodsworth said. "Our tax dollars are being used to spy on Canadians to benefit the fossil fuel industry."
Dogwood BC is one of the groups named in the papers.
The Northern Gateway Pipelines project was approved in June 2014 but suffered a blow when Canadian Prime Minister Justice Trudeau imposed a ban on oil tanker traffic on the country's northern coast in 2015. The federal government officially rejected plans for the pipelines in November 2016.