A Scoop Exclusive - Inside APEC Series
by Selwyn Manning
This week Scoop speaks to the man dubbed Canada’s “highest threat” in the run up to, during, and after the Vancouver APEC 97.
His tale reads like a scene out of the Frederick Forsyth book “The ODESSA File”. But while what you read here is clock and dagger, it is not fiction. Published on Scoop for the first time in New Zealand is Jaggi Singh’s account of what Canada’s mainstream press called a "political kidnapping".
Code Name: "Operation Mandible." Setting: Vancouver. Date: November 1997.
In the months leading up to Canada’s APEC leader’s summit meetings in November 1997, Jaggi Singh was being watched. At the time he wasn’t aware of that fact. But today he looks back and shakes his head.
He’s amazed at the degree to which his country, Canada, went to remove him against his will from organising a peaceful protest against free trade at the APEC talks in his home city of Vancouver.
Canada, like New Zealand, prides itself on a democracy where its citizens enjoy freedom to hold whatever beliefs they so choose, where its peoples also exercise their right to speak out should they not agree with another’s viewpoint. Well, that’s the ideal.
And that’s why it’s so disturbing to realise what really lurked within the shadows that surrounded Jaggi Singh’s organisation APEC-Alert.
Details of state agency intelligence infiltration has surfaced during the ongoing Royal Canadian Mounted Police public complaints commission of inquiry in Vancouver.
It was there that Jaggi Singh learnt in part how Canadian spies watched his every move: “I now know that I was under direct surveillance for at least five separate days: four in November 1997, and one in September. This means that I was followed around by several undercover officers without my knowledge. I suspect I was watched beyond the days already revealed.”
In fact “intelligence” had been gathered on Singh since 1995 when his campus politics first began to show.
The detail recorded left little to the imagination. Within the notes and reports issued to the public complaints commission, Singh read how he had one day changed his pants. The spies noted with question marks: was this an important point? Was Singh disguising himself? The reports detail how he loaded large buckets onto a bike trailer and road to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. The notes seem suspicious enough, except Singh explains to Scoop “The buckets contained food, and I was helping with a meal serving with a local anarchist group called "food not bombs".
Looking back, Singh suspects his email accounts and telephone calls were also monitored even though details of this remain undisclosed by police. But extensive documentation found with intelligence files show the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), and the Co-ordinated Law Enforcement Unit (CLEU) of British Colombia did monitor Singh’s activities as far back as the summer of 1995. The surveillance was also shared with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service [CSIS].
The intelligence gathering had a purpose though. The Threat Assessment Group [TAG] which was charged to gather intelligence before, during, and after the 1997 Vancouver APEC meetings, declared Singh the biggest threat to the APEC leader's meeting to be held at the University of British Colombia.
The title bestowed upon Singh surprised him. While he calls himself a “writer and political activist” he does not have a criminal record. Nor does he support violence in any way. He does subscribe to determined views and is one of Canada’s most forthright outspoken critics on breaches of human rights, police brutality, poverty, corporate-styled globalisation. He advocates indigenous rights, international solidarity with connections to “third world resistance movements”. But being considered “the biggest threat”?
Singh really never got a chance to exercise his citizen’s right to protest the APEC meetings.
Jaggi Singh was “removed” by agents in plain clothes one day before a brutal pepper-spraying clamp down busted up those opposing APEC 97.
Singh was to be a speaker at a “teach-in” on APEC which he was an organiser.
“I was walking alone between two buildings on campus, a pedestrian area. Three men in suits said my name. They grabbed me and pushed me to the ground quite violently, saying I was under arrest. They did not show badges, nor their IDs. I resisted their attempts, but I'm not very strong physically, nor am I a violent person. My hands were wrenched behind my back and cuffed tightly. I was trying to scream for help, but my mouth was covered by someone's hands. An unmarked car screeched onto the scene and I was thrown into the back head-first. I was laying on the floor of the car for what seemed like minutes as the car screeched off, with two people in the front. One of these men yelled, ‘Go, go, go! Let's get the fuck out of here!’
“The car sped away while I lay face down on the floor in the back of the car crying. Luckily, it was captured on video by a bystander.”
Singh was then driven to the RCMP detachment at University of British Colombia. On the way his detainers identified themselves as RCMP. He was read his rights: “I ended up spending four nights in prison.” This in effect meant he was removed for the duration of the APEC meetings.
Witnesses testified that there were up to seven plain-clothed men involved in the “arrest”.
Singh’s charges were for allegedly assaulting a police officer some 17 days earlier. The police said that Singh, at a protest meeting prior to the “nabbing”, had pointed a megaphone at a police officer and damaged his eardrum. Singh insists he pointed the megaphone away from the officer.
The charge was dropped two weeks before trial in February 1999. Singh: “I have always maintained that my ‘arrest’ was stage-managed by the police, and documents at the commission bear that out.”
Documents show a RCMP officer noting to Crown Counsel that "with a view towards eliminating the high profile members of APEC Alert, that Singh should be charged”.
Also, high ranking officers at the APEC command center wrote on November 21, 1997: "Jaggi Singh will be arrested quietly”.
The arrest was swift, was clandestine, as was the intelligence operation which had infiltrated APEC Alert.
The public inquiry in Canada revealed how agents had posed as protesters to get “inside” the organisations. Singh: “We do know that there was an "operative" in APEC Alert, but we haven't been able to get more details, and the officers who can shed insight on this haven't been called to testify yet.”
The Toronto Star is the largest circulation
Canada’s largest daily newspaper. Here’s a piece from
February 12 1999. It’s titled “Staying focused on the
pepper-spray cover up” and written by prominent columnist
“Jaggi Singh's charges were trumped up. That's the way it looks, anyway.
The outspoken activist was arrested on assault charges the day before the
now infamous anti-APEC protest - a protest he helped to organise. The RCMP
claimed that two weeks earlier, Singh had shouted too loudly into a
megaphone, injuring a police officer's eardrum. But last week, Singh's
charges were quietly dropped. Though the RCMP denies it, this development
bolsters Singh's allegation that the assault charge was fabricated to keep
him - and his embarrassing megaphone - away from the summit site.”
The authority spies knew who to take out. Inquiry documents show in detail what went on at APEC Alert meetings: “This means that they were attending those undercover, or were relying on an informant who has yet to be exposed,” Jaggi Singh says.
But why was Canada so worried?
Much of the police excesses at APEC, such as the nabbing of activists, restriction of megaphones, removal of signs and banners, was part of a concerted effort by the Federal Government to appease (a word used in the official documents) the concerns of former Indonesian dictator Suharto.
Singh states that appeasement plan goes right up to the office of the Canadian Prime Minister. He says, not only did Suharto have a thin skin, but when it came to protests which could disrupt Canada’s showpiece APEC meeting, so did Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
“Officials from his office did not want demonstrators close at all, and created a context which allowed for the pepper spray madness on November 25, 1997.”
As Scoop reported in its first instalment of the Inside APEC Series, Indonesia also had its own security and intelligence operatives active in Vancouver. This caused embarrassment to the Canadians. Indonesian agents are reported to have asked the Federal Government what diplomatic rights they had if they shot protesters. Later, five Indonesian agents were arrested for security breaches and for setting up electronic surveillance equipment on top of a building.
With a wary eye on New Zealand’s APEC leader’s summit meetings, Singh can see shapes in the shadows here too. He frowns with worry at the New Zealand Parliament passing legislation which allows overseas security agents to carry weapons.
But Singh is adamant it's important for the New Zealand public and those determined to voice their views, to recognise the fine line between vigilance and paranoia, and stay on the side of vigilance: “Since the groups I was involved with before APEC were quite open about our goals and tactics, we weren't too worried about taking precautions.
“Then again, prior to APEC in Vancouver, many of us were quite naive about the nature of the "democratic police state" in Canada.”
all the state backed paranoia?
In the post Cold-War, the world’s superpowers moved from a preoccupation of military and social intelligence, toward monitoring trade and economic matters. The same organisations that were active in the Cold-War are active today. National Security has been re-defined.
Here’s the United States’ Deputy Trade Representative, Richard Fisher, summarising the US’s agenda for the coming Auckland APEC meeting.
“The past two years have been a severe test for the entire Asia-Pacific region. Many of the affected countries deserve a great deal of credit for policies aimed at economic reform and political liberalization. Our own commitment to economic growth, continued deregulation, maintaining an open market, and providing assistance through contributions to IMF packages and other channels have helped to avoid fearful, inward-looking reactions and a potential backlash against foreigners and the world economy.
“Our aim in APEC over the coming months and years is to strengthen these healthy trends, and take the concrete actions which can make them permanent. As we look ahead toward our future national interest in an open, peaceful and prosperous Pacific region, APEC plays a key role in our strategy.”
Where does all this leave those who subscribe to a differing view than the a free global market?
Singh simply says: “Opponents of the free market are now deemed threats to economic, and hence, National Security.” “Of course, I was never actually brought to trial and neither was anyone involved in anti-APEC protests, despite over 50 arrests...”
In conclusion, the Toronto Star’s columnist Naomi Klein writes: “According to documents which became public... [Canadian Prime Minister] Jean Chretien may personally have given orders in the events which lead to the arrest and pepper spraying of dozens of students who were engaged in peaceful protests during last November's APEC Summit in Vancouver.
"He may also have put their lives at serious risk by allowing armed Indonesian security guards into their midst. He may also have issued the directions to illegally remove political signs and banners.
"If Chretien's involvement in these matters is proven, we have a Prime Minister who has shown utter contempt for the laws of his country and for the safety of Canadian students speaking out in defence of the human rights. If it is proven, it should cost him his job."
Prologue: Jaggi Singh remains “very active” in political organising in Montreal.
Visit Scoop for all your APEC news.
* Scoop's Inside APEC Series: - Stories To Come: An Exclusive Interview With Aziz Choudry - the Police's Response - APEC Releases - and much much more.
Other Scoop APEC Stories:
Canadian Anti-APEC Campaigner Warns of Spy Infiltration of New Zealand Groups http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK9908/S00135.htm
Police Radio Telephone Woes http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK9908/S00129.htm
Crack Down on Sex Workers http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK9908/S00117.htm
APEC Traffic http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK9908/S00112.htm
Albright To Attend APEC Summit http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK9908/S00077.htm