When I read the RCMP’s January 2014 assessment of what they call the “growing, highly organized and well-financed, anti-Canadian petroleum movement” that was leaked to the French-language newspaper LaPresse, my first reaction was to laugh at just how ridiculous it was.

Blog author Keith Stewart (centre) engages in a sit-in on Parliament Hill to support action on climate change, which the RCMP document suggests is a threat to Canada's national security

It was written in what the Globe and Mail calls “highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists” that looked like a bureaucratic agency making a case to their political masters for a larger budget.

But then I thought about the new terrorism bill, and it became genuinely scary.

The document was prepared as a “Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Assessment”. The proposed terrorism law includes “interference with critical infrastructure” as one of the things that constitutes the definition of an “activity that undermines the security of Canada”. So this is the document that will determine who the newly-empowered CSIS (which the Globe and Mail editorial board has characterized as a kind of secret police force) will target.

The big problem is that this document classifies anyone who is concerned about climate change as a potential (if not actual – the lines are very blurry) "anti-petroleum extremist" looking to advance their "anti-petroleum ideology". As Paul Champ, a lawyer working with the BC Civil Liberties Union on a case involving spying on environmentalists, told the Globe:

These kind of cases involving environmental groups – or anti-petroleum groups as the RCMP likes to frame them – are really the sharp end of the stick in terms of Bill C-51 [the proposed anti-terrorism law]. With respect to Bill C-51, I and other groups have real concerns it is going to target not just terrorists who are involved in criminal activity, but people who are protesting against different Canadian government policies.”

Most bizarrely, the RCMP document treats climate change as a hoax perpetrated by environmentalists (sorry – anti-petroleum extremists): 

"NGOs such as Greenpeace, Tides Canada and Sierra Club Canada, to name a few, assert climate change is now the most serious global threat, and that climate change is a direct consequence of elevated anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which, they believe, are directly linked to the continued use of fossil fuels….

Research and analysis done in support of ongoing RCMP criminal investigations shows that those involved in the anti-Canadian petroleum movement have an interest in drawing public attention to, and building recognition of, the perceived environmental threat from the continued use of fossil fuels.

The publicizing of these concerns has led to significant, and often negative, media coverage surrounding the Canadian petroleum industry. The use of social media, including the use of live-streaming, provides the anti-petroleum movement the ability to by-pass the traditional news networks, to control and craft its message, and to promote a one-sided version of the actual events, leading to broadly based anti-petroleum opposition.” (emphasis added). 

Contrast that approach with the U.S., where President Obama is defining climate change as a threat to national security, and one that affects more people than terrorism:

The White House stood by its decision on Tuesday to include climate change impacts in its national security strategy released last week. 

When asked if President Obama believed climate change is a greater threat than terrorism, White House spokesman Josh Earnest pushed back. 

"The point that the president is making is that there are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the direct impact on their lives of climate change or on the spread of a disease than on terrorism," Earnest said.

Earnest's comments also come after Obama said in an interview with Vox.com that "absolutely" the media overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism compared to climate change and disease…

The White House identified climate change as a threat on par with terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and disease in its national security strategy released last week. 

“Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” the White House said in the 35-page strategy document.

So in the U.S., climate change is a threat to national security, while in Stephen Harper’s Canada it is climate activists who are the threat.

This is part of the Harper government’s script. In 2012, Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver wrote an open letter that said:

"Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams. These groups threat to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda."

Not to be outdone, then-Environment minister Peter Kent equated questioning tar sands expansion with treason and said certain environmental charities were “money laundering” – an accusation that drew a sharp response from the umbrella group representing Canadian charities demanding that he bring forward proof or retract.

In spite of cutbacks elsewhere, the federal government managed to find an extra $8 million in 2012 for the Canada Revenue Agency to audit environmental groups, in what the Globe and Mail has called a “witch hunt” targeting groups opposed to new tar sands pipelines.

These, however, are mostly just words (and audits). What is genuinely alarming about the RCMP document is that, when combined with the proposed terrorism bill, it lays the groundwork for all kinds of state-sanctioned surveillance and “dirty tricks”.

Legal scholars Craig Forcese and Ken Roach have highlighted the sweeping nature of the powers being granted to CSIS in the new legislation:

“The government proposes radically restructuring CSIS and turning it into a “kinetic” service taking physical action well beyond intelligence collection — and competent to act beyond the law and even the constitution. We doubt the legality of this proposal. Moreover, it is a rupture from the entire philosophy that animated the CSIS Act when it was introduced 30 years ago. The bill amounts to an open-ended authorization of clandestine powers whose proper and reasonable application will depend on perfect government judgment, tempered (in some cases) by superb judicial judgment in a problematic, secret proceeding. It violates, therefore, a cardinal principle we believe should be embedded in national security law: any law that grants powers (especially secret, difficult to review power) should be designed to limit poor judgment, not be a law whose reasonable application depends on excellent judgment.”

The RCMP document displays the kind of poor judgment that needs to be limited when it defines individuals advocating purely peaceful actions such as sit-ins as a threat to national security:

"Those within the movement who are willing to go beyond peaceful actions primarily employ direct action tactics, such as civil disobedience, unlawful protests, break and entry, vandalism and sabotage." (emphasis added)

The terrorism bill does have an exemption for lawful protest and dissent. There are, however, many forms of protest that aren't strictly lawful such as a rally that doesn’t get the proper permits, wildcat strikes, sit-ins, or Idle No More blockades set up by First Nations to defend their treaty rights. We already have laws to address these types of actions, so undertaking or supporting such actions should not be conflated with terrorism, nor should it enable the kind of surveillance and interference contained in the proposed terrorism bill.

In fact, you don’t even have to actually organize a demonstration or sit-in to trigger the new power – under this legislation CSIS simply has to suspect that you might do something that interferes with critical infrastructure and they can break out their new bag of tricks. Which is truly chilling.

And that may be the desired effect.