OTTAWA - When Halifax professor Darryl Leroux helped organize a public panel discussion in Montreal last year, he did not expect to end up in an RCMP report.
But that’s what happened when Leroux’s event at Concordia University in Montreal last September became one of hundreds of lectures, public gatherings, vigils and protests observed by federal departments and law-enforcement agencies since 2006.
Ottawa has been keeping tabs on hundreds of public events and demonstrations both at home and around the world, according to documents published by the Toronto Star on Thursday. After events are observed by departments, details are collected centrally by the Government Operations Centre, an agency that prepares the federal government’s response to emergencies.
Leroux said he was surprised to find his public panel discussion was on that list.
“It just seems odd to me,” Leroux, an assistant professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, told the Star. “This was actually just an intellectual discussion.”
The talk focused on alternative concepts of colonialism throughout Quebec’s history, touching on topics like feminism and black activism in Montreal in the 1960s, Leroux said. There was no discussion of activism or organizing a protest, except through talking about historical events, he added.
When asked why he thinks the event was reported to a central emergency response agency, Leroux said he had “no idea” and “got a chill” when he thought about why police were interested.
“It was a pretty academic (event), although there was some grassroots involvement . . . . There were people who are involved in social movements, people who are academics like myself at the panel.”
The federal Conservatives on Thursday defended the practice of monitoring public gatherings, saying they keep tabs on any event deemed a risk to the public.
“Of course we respect the rights of Canadians to protest peacefully. However, Canadians expect local law enforcement to ensure that the law is always respected,” Roxanne James, the parliamentary secretary for public safety, told MPs Thursday.
According to the documents, which were published online by the Star, events reported to the Government Operations Centre include:
• The announcement of the co-ordinator for the National Day of Action by the Assembly of First Nations in May 2007. Government Operations Centre received that report from Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada.
• “Peace and church groups” opposing a military trade show in Ottawa in May 2009, tracked through media reports.
• A human trafficking awareness demonstration in Winnipeg in May 2010, reported by Public Safety Canada.
• A public discussion about Alberta’s oil sands in Toronto in August 2013, reported on by the RCMP.
• A workshop on non-violent protest methods and divestment in the oilsands, held in Montreal in October 2013 and monitored by the RCMP.
Most of the reports on public events appear to focus on First Nations and environmental movements, including the Idle No More movement and anti-oilsands activism.
Union rallies and demonstrations were also reported on. Most recently, the Government Operations Centre received a report from Public Safety on a Unifor rally in Lévis, Que.
Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said he wasn’t surprised that a May 2012 protest in Ottawa was reported on — but called the practice “worrying.”
“We were protesting the cuts that the Conservative government was making,” said Aylward.
“We’ve demonstrated time after time that we’re a peaceful organization. We have many protests and all of our protests are peaceful. It’s a democratic society that we live in.”
The Star requested an interview with the RCMP’s Quebec division and national division in Ottawa about the report on Leroux’s panel discussion. The RCMP did not immediately provide a comment.