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Anti-terrorist unit raids Native activist's home


Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Port Alberni B.C.







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A dawn raid on the Vancouver Island home of a West Coast Warrior Society (WCWS) member has many Native people wondering where they stand with Canada's intelligence community.

A tactical RCMP unit that was created under the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSET), evacuated the neighborhood and then kicked in the front door of John Rampanen's home on Sept 21. He and his young family were not home.

Information on the RCMP Web site states that INSET gathers information "to prevent, detect and prosecute criminal offences against national security. The mandate of these integrated units is to increase the capacity for the collection, sharing and analysis of intelligence among partners with respect to targets that are a threat to national security."

Rampanen, a former member of the Native Youth Movement and now a WCWS member, said the police informed him they conducted the raid because they had been informed he was stockpiling weapons. The police conducted an extensive search of the house, even X-raying the walls and floors, and found nothing.

While he admits he was charged with possession of restricted firearm-a handgun-a couple of years ago, he said he now has no weapons and doesn't associate with anyone who might have a stockpile of weapons.

He said a friend had the gun at a nightclub and he was worried there might be trouble so he took it. He was then caught with it.

"The judge, understanding the situation, was quite lenient. He realized I had lessened the threat," Rampanen said.

A veteran of many high profile incidents of Native rights activism, from Sun Peaks to Burnt Church to the occupation of the treaty commissioner's office in Vancouver to the highway blockade in Cheam, Rampanen worries that the anti-terrorism law has given the police an avenue to send him a message that they couldn't send before when his right to free political expression was less limited.

"I would definitely have to assume that under the anti-terrorism bill they now have powers that put them above the law, so to speak," he said.

WCWS members dress in military camouflage uniforms and show up when there's a flash point "to defend Native rights when they're under attack," he said. The group is non-violent and has not been known to carry weapons of any kind.

He has been in confrontations. At Cheam, he claims he was kicked in the head by a Department of Fisheries and Oceans officer.

"We went with video with Chief June Quipp to the RCMP detachment to file a charge against the DFO officer. When we went to the local RCMP detachment, they placed me under arrest and said it was quite obvious that I was the one assaulting the DFO officer on the videotape we took to the RCMP. But it very clearly showed that I was the one who was kicked in the head," he said.

The trial on that charge has dragged on for three years. The Crown wants jail time.

Could the charges hanging over him explain the approach of the police during the raid on his home, he was asked.

"It could. I haven't hidden behind anything. I've been very open and honest, as has our Warrior Society. I've also been very vocal about the empowerment of our people, especially our young people, overcoming drugs and alcohol. Vocal towards a lot of the injustices that go ignored throughout our territory," he replied.

After the unsuccessful police raid, he tried to find out what kind of information the police relied on to get the warrant for the raid.

He found that the warrant is sealed. He said his lawyer, Hugh Braker of Port Alberni, believes there are a couple of possible reasons for that. Either the warrant called for the installation of listening devices or it revealed the name of the person who supplied the information that John Rampanen had guns.

"The real puzzling thing that makes it very difficult for me to understand why this sort of thing would happen to me and my family is that they need to have very strong evidence," he said. "They needto swear an oath before a justice of the peace to get this warrant and they have to be able to convince the judge or justice of the peace that the allegations would be nearly 100 per cent true. I can't understand how they could have sworn an oath to a judge on an anonymous tip. That's all that they had because there is no evidence that exists that would say I stockpile arms because I don't have anything. I don't see how they could find anything unless they made it up."

He said he was impressed with the way his community supported him in his quest for answers.

"If anything positive comes out of this I was hoping it would be a review of the policy in dealing with Indigenous people, one, so that it doesn't happen to me again and, two, so it doesn't happen to any other innocent Indigenous people," he said. "The door's very much wide open for law enforcement officers to conduct themselves in whichever way that they want and be able to get away with it."

Hupaasath First Nation Chief Councillor Judith Sayers said she thought it was "really important" to support her fellow Nuu-chah-nulth Nation citizen.

"I've talked to a couple of the upper RCMP and they basically said they didn't use the anti-terrorism legislation and it was basically a criminal warrant," she said. "They also said the only reason they used that unit was because everybody else was busy."

Asked if that explanation sounded plausible to her, the cagey politician gave a careful answer.

"As plausible as it was to you," she replied, laughing.

She was able to question the RCMP about the matter.

"I questioned them on the reliability of their information and they're obviously very concerned that what they thought was good information really wasn't because, I mean, they didn't find a thing," she said.

There's no doubt in the chief councillor's mind that police target Aboriginal activists.

"Oh, definitely. I don't want to get paranoid here but I know a lot of things that I've done have been monitored. I thinkit's something that we need resolve with them because we've been pretty up front with them in regards to our war council. We try and explain that war council means we defend and protect our lands and resources, which is a whole different thing from preparing for war with someone," she said. "The anti-terrorism act concern is always going to be there until it's amended or repealed. But having a good working relationship goes a long way towards preventing unfortunate incidents."

Dave Dennis, a member of the Native Youth Movement, believes that other recent legislation has been used against Native people.

"The Firearms Act, anti-gang legislation and anti-terrorism legislation, all three pieces of legislation were intended to target other groups but all three have been used almost exclusively on Aboriginal people. It always seems to be the easiest target for the police," he said.

Aboriginal activists say they are committing no crimes and not preaching violence and therefore should not be forced to deal with the police. But internal RCMP documents show that intelligence agents continually monitor Aboriginal groups.

Canadian Steve Hewitt is a teaching fellow with the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham in England. His recently released book, Spying 101 (more information at www.spying101.com) is an extremely well-researched history of the evolution of the RCMP intelligence section from the beginning until it was handed over to CSIS. In the early days, he wrote, beat cops were thrown into intelligence work with little training or education. Resentment and distrust of higher education led security agents to target university campuses, where ideas that challenged the status quo were debated. What resulted, Hewitt demonstrates, was a kind of police censorship of progressive thought.

"Part of it was the context of the times. The Cold War made such a police approach possible," he told Windspeaker in an e-mail interview from the Unite Kingdom on Oct. 21. "Since the end of the Cold War fear of subversion, the justification for much of what I write about, has largely vanished although police interest in universities has not vanished."

There has not yet been sufficient debate about how security agents deal with the expression of ideas that challenge established authorities, he said.

"I do not argue in the book that the police have no place on university campuses. If a crime has been committed there's obviously a role. The threat of terrorism and/or espionage are other potential justifications. The problem I have relates to definitions. Who defines what threats justify police and intelligence operations on campus? Who defines the restrictions on such activities? Who will insure proper reviews of such work are instituted?" he said.

"Simply the awareness of the potential of police work on campuses by definition infringes on freedom of speech. I recount an incident in the 1950s where a group of Carleton College students in Ottawa went to the local RCMP detachment to seek assurance that they would not be negatively perceived from a security point of view because they had invited a Communist to come and speak at the college. The RCMP gave no such assurance and, indeed, sent someone to secretly monitor the event. In another case at the University of Manitoba, students who wrote letters in favor of peace to the student newspaper had their names recorded by the police. I have other examples as well."

Hewitt wrote that Aboriginal activists are included with several potentially dangerous groups in a little known Canadian law.

"As part of its National Security investigations directorate, which in 1989 had a budget of $7.7 million and a staff of 144, the RCMP, through its National Security Investigations Section, carry out intelligence work under the little known Security Offenses Act passed in 1984 at the same time as the CSIS Act," he wrote.

The RCMP unit is responsible for the protection of visiting