Visiting author approached by police after talk on the mining industry in Canada
Earlier this semester, two plainclothes RCMP officers were present at a visiting author’s talk about the mining industry in Canada. The presence of the officers brought up concerns about police surveillance of activist spaces and the state’s policing of what is being discussed in university spaces. Members of the Mount Allison community are now looking for answers as to why the RCMP were on the University campus.
On the afternoon of Oct. 23, visiting author Joan Kuyek spoke in Hart Hall about her book Unearthing Justice, which focuses on the mining industry. Topics discussed at the event included what mining is, the environmental consequences of mining and the social implications of mining. The talk also shed light on how different communities have mobilized to either resist mining altogether or to make mining better for their communities.
According to Kuyek, two people approached her in plain clothing after her talk. “They said they were with the RCMP, and I laughed, as I remember. They said something about they were helping keep environmentalists safe,” said Kuyek. “I said, ‘I’m an old lady I don’t need any protecting.’ ”
Dave Thomas, the event’s organiser and an international relations professor, speculated as to why the RCMP made an appearance at an academic event.
“Based on the broader context of what the RCMP gets up to in this country, the RCMP is typically watching out for the interests of the Canadian state and corporate Canada,” said Thomas. “They’re trying to watch over and monitor people who are viewed as dissident and people who are viewed as a threat to business as usual for industries and the Canadian state.”
Kuyek also spoke about whose interests she believes the RCMP serve. “I know that the RCMP is there to protect the interest of the state; that’s whose interests they protect. In most cases when there’s resource conflict, the state’s interests are conflated with the interests of the extraction corporations that are there,” she said. “Natural Resources Canada calls the mining industry its client. They’re protecting the interest of who they see as their client, and that sure as hell isn’t environmentalists.”
Thomas believes that the RCMP being on campus is part of a larger problem of police surveillance. “I think police showing up on campus at an academic event sends a chill across campus and puts a chill into people’s minds, and in many ways, could potentially limit people in terms of what they think they think they’re freely allowed to engage in,” he said. “It’s deeply problematic for anyone who’s trying to question the status quo and build alternatives to the status quo that could involve a more just and equitable society. We can’t do that if we feel that the state is watching and if the state may be trying to intimidate us from doing those things.”
Patty Musgrave-Quinn, the Indigenous affairs coordinator at Mt. A, is familiar with police surveillance of land defenders and environmentalists. Musgrave-Quinn spoke to the Argosy specifically about police surveillance of land defenders during Idle No More protests.
“I think that [RCMP monitoring] really came to a head in 2013 after the shale gas events in Elsipogtog in Kent County and during the raid of the RCMP against the land defenders,” said Musgrave-Quinn. “What a lot of people don’t know is that in 2013 during shale gas, at the encampment on Route 134, there were elders, women and children when the RCMP went in to raid at 7 a.m. when they were all sound asleep. There was RCMP from all over the place.”
Musgrave-Quinn then said, “We are all treaty people.” She believes that an important part of being a treaty person is engaging in conversations like the one held on campus about mining. “It’s not just Indigenous people that are treaty people, it’s everybody else. Because that agreement that was made hundreds of years ago in the 1700s still stands today. Your responsibility is to respect that treaty. My responsibility is to respect that treaty,” said Musgrave-Quinn. “I absolutely do think that every treaty person needs to understand what [resource extraction] means to you, what it means to your children, what it means to your grandchildren, and what it means for the next seven generations.”
Musgrave-Quinn feels that an RCMP presence on campus is troubling. “If you do see RCMP on campus, you can assume they’re there to uphold some law that’s being broken. RCMP on campus at a book launch is ridiculous because there is no law being broken; there are not people mobilized to cause mass destruction at Mount Allison in Hart Hall,” she said. “We have every right to wonder why they were here [and] what was the goal.”
Musgrave-Quinn also said that she thinks social problems associated with the RCMP are about problematic structures rather than individual officers. “There are a lot of really good RCMP officers out there, a lot of really solid people who are not in the least violent. They’re there to uphold the law. And I think it’s really sad that a lot of those people got caught up in this and continue to get caught up in this across the nation because they’re directed to do so by their department.”
Thomas is now in the process of searching for answers from the RCMP. “I submitted an Access to Information request on Nov. 14. I’m requesting any notes, memos, emails or other documents prepared in advance of the RCMP visit or prepared after the RCMP visit,” said Thomas in an email to the Argosy. “I’m basically looking for any paperwork associated with the visit that might identify the purpose or result of their presence.”
Thomas put his concerns about the RCMP on the agenda for the faculty council meeting on Nov. 26. “I’m hoping to explain what happened and have a discussion among faculty about the issues this raises,” said Thomas. “I think it’s really important that for those of us who have critical questions about the way that our contemporary society operates, it’s really important that on campus, and anywhere else for that matter, we are free to engage in these kinds of critical questions and this kind of critical commentary and dig deeper into what’s going on.”