OTTAWA -- A special unit of Canada's military spied on native protesters and soldiers and installed secret video cameras to monitor Defence Department employees suspected of theft even though it didn't have warrants to do so.
Files obtained by the Ottawa Citizen through access to information legislation show the special operations branch of the Canadian Forces special investigations unit installed secret surveillance cameras to monitor soldiers and civilian employees on at least six occasions between 1993 and 1995 at bases across the country.
The branch's mandate is to investigate espionage and terrorism and gather information on immediate security threats.
Lawyers say the military is required to obtain warrants before using secret cameras to spy on employees. The documents reveal only one warrant was issued to the military for the use of covert video cameras during that period.
Documents covering the period 1990 to 1995 also show that:
* Defence Department spies tailed current and former employees suspected of minor theft or selling smuggled cigarettes, although the missions appear to have unearthed little evidence of improper conduct.Capt. Alain Bissonnette, spokesperson for the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, said the department's special operations section consults with military lawyers on whether warrants are needed for its missions and strictly follows the law.
* The unit spied on native protesters at Ipperwash in 1993; the next year, it was put on alert to sneak into Oka, Que., and the surrounding native reserves when tensions there increased.
* The surveillance team searched the luggage of soldiers catching flights at the Ottawa airport for weapons but found nothing.
* The military used a hidden camera to catch an employee stealing nuts and bolts from a workshop at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. It obtained a warrant.
* At Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta the team's equipment was used to record communications of individuals whose names were deleted from the documents. In that case, the military stated it did not believe it needed a warrant.
"The support section conducts all their technical surveillance according to Canadian law and the Charter of Rights," Bissonnette said.
Officials with the Judge Advocate General's office declined to be interviewed.
But civilian lawyers say that under a 1990 Supreme Court ruling, the military should have obtained a warrant for every use of secret video cameras.
"If their purpose is to gather evidence for a criminal offence then there has to be a warrant," said lawyer Clayton Ruby. "There's a privacy interest which can only be overturned by a warrant."
Eugene Oscapella, a legal specialist in privacy rights, agreed. "The whole notion of video surveillance is troubling. Just because we have the technological means to track people doesn't mean we should be doing it."
The unit is armed with more than $1 million in high-tech surveillance gear.
The surveillance at Ipperwash was one of the unit's most extensive missions. The land had been taken from the natives during the Second World War for military training. The protesters were frustrated the federal government was stalling in returning the property.
Thirty native protesters were allowed to live in tents at one end of the camp; soldiers and protesters agreed to stay out of each other's way.
But in fact, a special operations team hid in the bushes, photographing and recording the natives' every movement.
Less than a year later, the special operations team was preparing to spy on natives in Quebec. Tensions at the Kanesatake reserve near Oka were mounting and in late January 1994, Mohawks fired as many as 60 bullets at two military aircraft.
The spy teams were told to be ready to move out within a few hours; they were assigned to collect intelligence for military commanders and police. They were armed, but were warned to "use discretion."