Hart Hall, Mount Allison University in Sackville New Brunswick (Google Image)

It was an innocuous event, as most book launches are, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police didn’t think so, and two officers in plain clothes showed up at Hart Hall at Mount Allison University, apparently concerned by what they read in this Halifax Examiner story and in three Facebook posts advertising the launch.

It’s a perplexing and disturbing tale, and it unfolded like this.

It was the fall of 2019, and Joan Kuyek had just published a new book, “Unearthing Justice: How to protect your community from the mining industry.” She had come east from her home in Ontario for a book tour in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Kuyek is co-founder of MiningWatch Canada, has taught at Algoma University in Sault St. Marie and Queen’s University law school in Kingston, and has worked extensively with many First Nations and other communities to help them understand the mining industry and how best they can protect themselves and the environmental harm it causes.

While in Nova Scotia, she spoke at events in Halifax and Tatamagouche, and also spoke at a “Water Not Gold” rally, as the Examiner reported here, which was held at the Halifax Airport Alt Hotel, where the Mining Association of Nova Scotia was hosting a “gold show.”

Author Joan Kuyek speaks at the Water Not Gold rally in October 2019. Photo: Joan Baxter

By October 23, 2019, Kuyek had moved on to Sackville, New Brunswick, where she was to launch her book at Mount Allison University.

She had been invited by Dave Thomas, Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, who had organized the launch in the medium-sized classroom 101 in Hart Hall (which RCMP reports erroneously called “local 101 at the Heart Hall.”)

Thomas says there were about 20 or 25 people — students and faculty — in attendance, and that the book launch “went really well.”

Cover of Joan Kuyek’s 2019 book.

“Joan [Kuyek] gave a great talk, people had tonnes of questions,” Thomas tells the Examiner. “We had a representative from the local independent bookstore there selling books, and they sold a bunch of them.”

The event had ended, he recalls, and Thomas was alone with Kuyek waiting for two of her friends to come and pick her up, when, “two people in plains clothes came into the room. They said hello and asked about the book, if they could still buy a copy.”

Thomas continues:

It seemed kind of odd to me because I didn’t recognize them, and they could get copies of the book at the local bookstore. Just then, Joan’s friends arrived to pick her up, and when they came over to speak to me, the other two went and spoke with Joan, and introduced themselves to her as RCMP officers. They talked for a few minutes and then left. I didn’t get a chance to talk to them because I was talking to Joan’s friends. They came in, talked to Joan, and then they left. That was it.

Kuyek picks up the tale:

What was interesting about the Sackville event is that the two cops got there after everyone had left. I was happy that they were late, so they wouldn’t know who had been there (unless of course there was a mole). There were two of them. When I asked, the woman told me that she was First Nations from Flying Post in Ontario (a community that has had most of its lands destroyed by the Timmins [Ontario] mining camp, and which recently signed an IBA [Impact and Benefits Agreement] with Newmont-Goldcorp (after years of being ignored)). The guy — who knows?

They were actually very pleasant and said they were just interested in the book. I told them to buy one at the bookstore in Sackville, as I had none with me for sale. Frankly, I don’t remember much about the conversation. They did say they were there to “protect environmentalists” at which I laughed, and said I was an old lady and didn’t need protection.

Kuyek says she wasn’t “at all surprised” by the RCMP presence.

“I have always assumed that people like me were on some sort of watch list,” she says.

Kuyek was told in the 1960s that the RCMP had a file on her, but her 2013 attempt to find out if this was the case was unsuccessful because she was unwilling to ask for her “criminal records” or provide her fingerprints in her request.

Kuyek tells the Examiner:

I have been arrested twice for protesting: once in the 60s over a sit-in on Parliament Hill against the war in Vietnam, and once in the 80s in northern Ontario over the Red Squirrel logging road. Both charges were dropped. Although I have been in a number of civil disobedience actions since, I have not been arrested (sometimes to my great surprise).

Joan Kuyek launching her book “Unearthing Justice” in Ottawa with Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada. Photo: Greg MacDougall, from https://equitableeducation.ca/2019/unearthing-justice-book-launch-joan-kuyek

At the time of her book launch, Kuyek didn’t want to go to the media about the RCMP presence because she didn’t want that story to distract from the power of the mining industry that she was speaking about.

But now, more than a year later, she says she is not as worried about that.

A “chill” across campus

Thomas says he was curious about the RCMP presence, as he couldn’t imagine what would bring them to such an event in an academic setting. He says he had never heard of something like this happening at Mount Allison, or why police would be interested in a book launch.

Thomas was so bothered by it that eventually he, together with a concerned student and a few others at the university, drafted a statement, circulating it online as a petition for faculty and staff to sign, and sending it to the university administration. It read:

We, the undersigned students, faculty, staff, and alumni are deeply concerned with this RCMP visit to an academic event on our campus. Academic freedom is central to the mission of the University, and is absolutely crucial to ensure that we can engage in free and rigorous debate and discussion at the University. Members of the Mount Allison community must be free to pursue knowledge and ideas without the threat or fear of intimidation from law enforcement, or any other agents of the state. The presence of RCMP officers at an academic event has the potential to send a “chill” across campus. This is unacceptable, and we collectively assert that the RCMP is not welcome on our campus uninvited for purposes of monitoring events and community gatherings, conducting surveillance, or intimidating members of our community.

It is also important to recognize that there is a broader context of the RCMP monitoring individuals who may be considered dissidents, especially Indigenous people who are politically active or otherwise engaged in land and water defense. It is absolutely imperative that Mount Allison University be a safe and welcoming place for Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and visitors to our campus.

Dave Thomas (contributed)

Thomas then filed an Access to Information request with the RCMP, asking for “a copy of any notes, memos, e-mails, or other documents prepared” before or after the event and the RCMP visit.

After that, Thomas says he waited for so long he forgot about his request. When he remembered, almost a year had passed and he had still not heard anything, so he filed a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.

Then, finally, the RCMP got back to Thomas on January 11, 2021. The letter from the RCMP Access to Information and Privacy Branch informed him that the search for records was with the RCMP J Division in New Brunswick. However, it said that all of the information reviewed “qualifies for exemption pursuant to subparagraph 16(1)(a)(i) of the [Access to Information] Act.

That is part of the “Law enforcement and investigations” section of the Act, which states:

16 (1) The head of a government institution may refuse to disclose any record requested under this Part that contains (a) information obtained or prepared by any government institution, or part of any government institution, that is an investigative body specified in the regulations in the course of lawful investigations pertaining to (i) the detection, prevention or suppression of crime

The RCMP also wrote that they had “exercised discretionary powers” and “released some of the information.”

They provided Thomas with one 17-page document containing a few “occurrence details” about the RCMP operation.

The document included a November 29, 2019 article, reproduced in full, published by the Moncton Times and Transcript about the presence of the RCMP officers at the book launch, with quotes from Kuyek and Thomas.

One of the RCMP officers involved in the operation, Criminal Intelligence Analyst Magalie Sephton, wrote in a “supplementary report” that she had “conducted open source review and searches,” and “located an article by the Halifax examiner [sic] entitled “Joan Kuyek: Our job is to take our governments back from the mining interests.”

Sephton saved the full article as a pdf file and included it in her report for the Special Projects Union (SPU), noting:

The article further describes Kuyek’s journey in the mining world. Further searches revealed that Kuyek will also be in New Brunswick to launch her book this week. Writer [Sephton referring to herself] has captured the event information as well as the three (3) Facebook events that have been created.

In her report, Sephton also included screenshots of Facebook posts publicizing the upcoming book launch events in Sackville, St. John and Fredericton.

The document released to Thomas included this list of “officers involved” in the operation:

Assisting unit / J Division Federal Division of the Criminal Analyst Section Contract Policing

Supervising officer / LEBLANC S/ J Division Federal Special Projects

Intelligence analyst / SEPHTON M / J Division Federal Division Criminal Analyst Section Contract Policing

Primary unit/ J Division / Federal Special Projects

Lead investigator/ SPACEK J / J Division Federal Special Projects

One of the two RCMP officers who went to the book launch, Constable Sebastien Leblanc, “Special Projects Unit,” wrote in his official report to Sergeant Denis Lajoie of the RCMP Criminal Intelligence Section (CIS), that he and Constable Joanne Spacek had decided, “to attend the book launch in plain clothes, to not attract attention.”

Leblanc’s report continued:

The goal of the encounter with Joan KUYEK was also to purchase her book for research and development of the Special Projects Unit. At approximately 14:00 the same day, A/Cpl. Sebastien LEBLANC and Cst. Joanne SPACEK went to Heart [sic] Hall, local [sic] 101 and saw Joan KUYEK and a u/k [unknown] male. After the brief conversation with Joan KUYEK, Cst. Joanne SPACEK and A/Cpl. Sebastien LEBLANC left Mount Allison University withou [sic] any other contact.

“Criminalization of dissent”

There is much that is perplexing and concerning in the RCMP reports contained in the document released to Dave Thomas, not least than an RCMP Special Projects Unit seems to think it needs to buy books from authors and report on this to the RCMP Criminal Intelligence Section.

When Thomas received the document, and the letter informing him that all the information he requested was actually subject to “exemption” because it was collected by an investigative body doing lawful investigations pertaining to “the detection, prevention or suppression of crime,” he composed a Twitter thread, in which he wrote:

This is about the criminalization of dissent. They literally had 5 officers involved in this operation, including officers from something called the criminal analyst section to search the internet for information about this book tour, and then send 2 officers to the event itself.

Thomas’ Twitter thread concludes:

The RCMP response gave no clear reason for this investigation, nor did it explain what potential crime they might be investigating. We need to be clear that this is an unnecessary attack on our academic freedom. No wonder people are calling to #DefundThePolice.

Blurring the role of the RCMP

The RCMP decision to attend — uninvited and unbeknownst to the organizer — the launch in New Brunswick of a book about the mining industry and community resistance, came less than half a year after a disturbing event involving the RCMP and a mining company event in Nova Scotia.

In May 2019, an RCMP officer, who answered a call from Atlantic Gold security manager Terry Moser, violently arrested John Perkins, a senior citizen who was seated quietly, belatedly eating his lunch brought from home, at a public information session Atlantic Gold was hosting in Sherbrooke.

In their press release about the incident, the RCMP repeated false claims made by the Atlantic Gold security guard who placed the 911 call that there were “several persons causing a disturbance” at the information session, as the Examiner reported here.

It is also indicative that while the RCMP chose to investigate and attend a book launch to which they were not invited or expected, they were front and centre on October 11, 2017 when Atlantic Gold invited them, provincial government officials and other representatives, to attend the formal opening of their Moose River mine in Nova Scotia.

Two RCMP officers were photographed with the mining company brass at the event, and the photo was published on the Atlantic Gold website.[1]

In May 2019, the Halifax Examiner asked the RCMP in what capacity the officers had attended the Atlantic Gold event, on whose invitation, and whether it was standard practise for RCMP officers to appear in photographs with directors of a private corporation.

RCMP spokesperson Lisa Croteau replied that they did so “to ensure public safety and build community relationships.”

The “RCMP is routinely invited to community events and often appear in photos as part of those events,” Croteau said.

If the reports released through Access to Information about RCMP snooping into Kuyek’s book launch at Mount Allison University are any indication, then it seems  the RCMP may also be “routinely” monitoring and investigating events involving authors and community activists — and doing so without invitation or public knowledge.

[1] The photo appeared on the erstwhile photo gallery page of the Atlantic Gold website, and was taken on October 11, 2017, to mark the opening of, and the production of the first gold bar, at Atlantic Gold’s Moose River open pit gold mine. In the photo, from left to right are: General Manager Tony Woodfine, COO Maryse Belanger, Chairman & CEO Steven Dean, who are flanked on both the left and the right by RCMP officers. The Examiner is not using the photo in question, as one of the RCMP officers in it is now deceased.

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Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca; Twitter @joan_baxter

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  1. Yes. I think it’s highly unlikely the RCMP has stopped engaging in its long-time surveillance and infiltration of community activists meetings, be that at universities or elsewhere. What about other police organizations?

    During the Seattle WTO protests 21 years ago, I attended a Direct Action meeting in Halifax. As I recall, it was somewhere on Barrington St. When the group took a break, a friend abruptly got up without saying anything to me and went outside with others. On his return, I asked what was going on. He said he recognized two men at the meeting and went outside to have a chat with them. They were Halifax cops who had infiltrated the meeting. The cops didn’t rejoin the meeting. That’s because my friend told them to fuck off.

    A blast from the past, not in a light hearted way.

    “The Canadian Association of University Teachers, representing the faculties of thirtynine universities, has repeatedly deplored the recent rash of S&l investigations on Canadian campuses. “This may pose an obvious threat to the freedom of thought and discussion which must exist in the university community,” says a recent CAUT statement. Despite a firm denial in the House of Commons by T. M. Bell, parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Fleming, on Jan. 21, 1963, S&l investigations have occurred on many campuses on many occasions and are still going on. The most recent was at Huntington College, in Sudbury, on Feb. 22, 1963, thirty-two days after Mr. Bell’s unequivocal denial.”


    In Just Watch Us, Christabelle Sethna and Steve Hewitt examine why and how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police monitored and investigated persons and groups belonging to the women’s liberation movement in Canada during a fifteen-year period beginning in the late 1960s.

    Just Watch Us: RCMP Surveillance of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Cold War Canada


  2. “The secrecy that surrounds state and corporate surveillance and infiltration is one of the main obstacles that we face when trying to understand and resist it. As Cristina Flescer and Lesley Wood state, repression of social movements is deliberately invisible—from surveillance to infiltration to the mysterious deaths of labour unionist and environmental whistleblower Karen Silkwood, or peace activist and Green Party founder Petra Kelly. Sometimes the media make repression invisible by failing to report it; other times repression is difficult to detect because the mechanisms used are subtle and institutionalized.”

    Political Policing and the Surveillance Matrix

    “What can Petra Kelly teach us 30 years after her death? So many things, but one is the truth hiding in plain sight.”