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

Coulson Aviation CEO walks Australian crash site, pays tribute to fallen flight crew

Company’s 737 tanker crews back in the air fighting Australian bushfires

Port Alberni drag racers turn attention back to Stamp Avenue for 2020, 2021

AVDRA to ask city council for permission, road closures to run Thunder in the Valley Aug. 7-9, 2020

Port Alberni packs 500 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in 2019

Worldwide distribution begins for annual humanitarian aid campaign

BCHL: Comeback falls short for Alberni Valley Bulldogs

Visiting Langley Rivermen take the 3-2 win on Parents Weekend

Alberni floor curlers win tournament in Nanoose Bay

Four teams from Port Alberni compete on the road

VIDEO: Music stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant at Grammys award show

Music artists including Billy Ray Cyrus, Rick Ross and Kirk Franklin paid tribute to Bryant

Pregnant B.C. woman stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

Woman is due to give birth in Wuhan, China unless she can get out

Victoria-area wolf tranquilized after being seen running around neighbourhood

Officials say wolf unharmed during its ‘arrest’

Ontario confirms second presumptive coronavirus case in wife of first patient

Both arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Most Read