CSIS warily monitors potential for violent anti-Olympic demonstrations

OTTAWA - Canada's spy agency is warily eyeing the possibility of violent protests against the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia.

The annual report of Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Jim Judd signals the agency is actively gauging the prospect that demonstrations could turn ugly as opponents voice social and economic concerns about the Vancouver Games.

The heavily censored 27-page CSIS report notes "the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics may lead to protests with the potential for violence."

The passage is part of a section of the report dealing with the activities of CSIS's Asia, Europe and Americas Branch, noting that in the Americas the service's "domestic and secessionist investigations" include, among other concerns, white supremacism and Sikh and Tamil extremism - all longstanding interests of CSIS.

The top secret document, dated July 25 of last year, was delivered by hand to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

A declassified version stripped of sensitive security material was recently obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

An array of activists, from aboriginal groups to anti-poverty fighters, oppose the Winter Games, fearing the impact of the mega-event on Vancouver's poor, the environment and the B.C. balance sheet.

Spokesmen for an anti-Olympics group and a civil liberties organization said the CSIS document raises questions about how far the intelligence service will go in monitoring Games opponents.

"We're more than a little worried about the potential for infiltration of non-profit societies and legitimate protest groups," said lawyer Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

CSIS spokeswoman Manon Berube said the service's mandate for the Winter Olympics is to assist law-enforcement and intelligence partners in ensuring the Games are incident-free. "And we have a wide range of contacts at the domestic and international levels in helping us to fulfil that mandate."

She said the intelligence service would work with the RCMP and other federal agencies to help the Canadian Olympic Committee "in evaluating and monitoring threats to Canadians and Canadian interests in relation to the 2010 Olympics.

"CSIS threat assessments will be shared with the appropriate government department as required."

Berube refused to be more specific. "I can't be giving any details about our operations."

Critics acknowledge the complex task authorities face in keeping a handle on genuine threats to safety as the Games draw closer.

"If someone has a grudge and wants to make a statement, there's no better place to do it," said Chris Shaw, spokesman for Games watchdog group 2010watch. "I do think there are legitimate concerns about security."

But critics also warn against trampling on the constitutionally guaranteed right to express dissent.

Shaw says security agencies and police should focus on threats from the truly dangerous, not groups like his, whose members run a website, picket events and hand out leaflets.

"No one is talking anything violent here. We're talking about making our voices heard and protesting the Olympics," Shaw said.

"If they're spending too much time worrying about the domestic threats that are annoying but not really violent - that aren't really putting anyone at risk besides embarrassment - and taking resources away from dealing with things that actually might get people killed, then they're making a big mistake."

The depth of concern that security agencies can have for protesters at large international events became abundantly clear after the gathering of leaders from Canada, the United States and Mexico last summer in Montebello, Que.

The Quebec provincial police eventually admitted three officers disguised as masked protesters, including one clutching a rock, were among the demonstrators.

Gratl served as counsel for Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Residents Association after Vancouver police executed a search warrant at the group's office last March, investigating the disappearance of an Olympic flag from city hall. The association denies any role in the theft.

Gratl considers the Games a challenge for both the authorities and the agencies that are supposed to keep an eye on them.

"CSIS belongs at the Olympics because there are going to be internationally protected persons, diplomats, foreign politicians, even Olympic athletes from countries against which other groups have an axe to grind," Gratl said.

"It's obviously a situation that calls for tight security."

"But as tight as the security will be for the Olympics, oversight of our security agencies should be even tighter."