“The Canadian law enforcement and security intelligence community have noted a growing radicalized environmentalist faction within Canadian society that is opposed to Canada’s energy sector policies,”

This quote comes from a 2011 marine ‘threat assessment‘ compiled by the RCMP with help from CSIS, Fisheries and Oceans and Border Services. A “heavily censored” version of was recently obtained by the media through the Access to Information Act, causing renewed outrage at our government’s ongoing attempts to repress dissent.

The report itself details the actions of groups like Greenpeace. “Criminal activity by Greenpeace activists typically consists of trespassing, mischief, and vandalism, and often requires a law enforcement response,” it states, and goes on to warn that their actions “unnecessarily risk the health and safety of the activists, the facility’s staff, and the first responders who are required to extricate the activists”. This is some heavy language – if you weren’t familiar with typical Greenpeace actions, you might never know they were talking about dropping banners.

I suppose this comes down to how one defines “radical”. For Stephen Harper, CSIS or the RCMP, it probably includes everyone to the left of Genghis Kahn, or anybody who disagrees with the Prime Minister. If so, then “radicalism” has a very solid majority in the polls, which only goes to show that extremism is relative. Harper’s views are hardly typical for Canadians and utterly hostile to nature, making his politics a horrible reference point. If any environmentalist thought (or opposition to national energy policy on other grounds) is considered “radical”, then why use the word at all? All environmentalists will be more radical than some, but some will be far more radical than others. Greenpeace hasn’t been on that end of the spectrum in decades, long-since replaced by groups like Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front. Attempting to use veiled eco-terrorist imagery to describe Greenpeace or the David Suzuki foundation is a little like lumping in the NDP with the black bloc (an allegation Harper Conservatives have also made).

If there has been a dramatic upsurge in “radical environmentalism” over the past few years, then I’ve totally missed it. It’s certainly grown, but so has every other kind of activism. I wouldn’t deny a general rise in radicalism and environmentalism, but to point a finger toward “radical environmentalists” sounds more like the paranoid delusions of Stephen Harper than any objective assessment of the state of activism in Canada.

If anything, truly radical ecological theories have lost ground in the past few years. From the mid-eighties until a few years ago, philosophies like Deep Ecology and green anarchism were on the cutting edge of most North American militancy. Nearly all “occupations” were blockades, aimed at stopping highways, logging, business parks or other development projects. The ALF and ELF waged a long quiet war against fur farms, ski resorts and SUV dealerships, eventually becoming America’s most wanted “terrorist groups” (without ever killing anyone!). Even the more militant side of anarchism was caught up, the best example of this probably being the associations between John Zerzan (notorious anarcho-primitivist in Eugene) and the black bloc at the Seattle WTO protests in 1999. Since about 2010, though, the pendulum had swung back toward social, labour and urban issues (think “Greece”) and it’s now a safe bet any black-clad rioter you can keep up with is far more likely to explain their broken windows with a cryptic quote from Bonanno than Zerzan.

What has seen a real and dramatic upsurge is moderate environmentalism. That’s exactly what one might expect given the direction our government’s taken. Groups like 350.org and Greenpeace have been staging an enormous number of entirely peaceful protests. At their height, thousands lined up for days to be arrested outside the White House and Parliament Hill. None of these groups are calling for anything much more radical than the Green Party, and it’s generally a safe bet that they’ll inform police themselves before they attempt much civil disobedience. Targeting them for police surveillance is beyond inappropriate, and sets a very dangerous precedent.

If they can go after David Suzuki, they can go after anyone. If you like rivers or trees, you too may now be an “enemy of Canada”, because of course, Stephen Harper is Canada. This isn’t about a crucial national energy policy, this is about the oil-fuelled ambitions of our Prime Minister, coming straight from Calgary Centre, the heart of oil country’s financial district. He has sought to dismantle, demonize and criminalize an entire side of a very important national debate. Beyond his petty corrupt despotism, though, are departments full of people who know better. The RCMP and CSIS are well aware that Greenpeace poses no “threat” to our country, but they’re still more than happy to take part in this witch hunt. This has nothing to do with “crime” and everything to do with money and power. As our government moves further to the right, everybody else begins to look more “radical” in comparison. There’s no question that this points toward a truly dangerous group of “extremists, but they certainly aren’t environmentalists.