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

Clearview Schools’ statement on mandatory masks for returning students

About 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer will also be distributed between all Alberta school divisions

Alberta RCMP launches online crime reporting across the province

A goal for the Alberta RCMP is to make sure all crime is reported, no matter how small

Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases continue to trend downwards

85 new cases Tuesday, active cases sit at 1,004

Looking back – the enduring legacy of Clark Burlingham

Burlingham was the Town’s first recreation director

Charges likely in fatal attack at central Alberta medical clinic: RCMP

A vigil was held Monday night to mourn the victim

More charges laid against man accused of killing Red Deer doctor in walk-in clinic

Appearing before a judge, Deng Mabiour, 54, rambled about being sick and needing a doctor

Deaths feared after train derails amid storms in Scotland

Stonehaven is on the line for passenger trains linking Aberdeen with the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Harris and Biden plan to deliver remarks Wednesday in Wilmington

Donations pour in for family of doctor killed in Red Deer attack

Man has been charged in connection to death of Red Deer doctor

Vigil held in Maskwacis for 10-year-old boy

Samson Cree Nation comes together for comfort, console each other

Cuts to environmental monitoring budget In Alberta’s oilsands are viewed as reckless

The 2019-2020 budget saw $58 million dollars being dedicated to environmental monitoring

Over half of Americans oppose Trump tariff on Canadian aluminum: survey

The survey was conducted Aug. 7 to 9 among 1,513 Canadians and 1,003 Americans

Most Read