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Saturday, August 25, 2007

What’s Wrong With Undercover Surveilance?

Many in the media and other left-leaning organizations have been critical of the Sûreté du Québec for planting undercover officers inside a demonstration at last week’s meeting of Canadian, US and Mexican leaders in Montebello, Québec.  They accuse the police of intentionally trying to incite violence and of infringing on our right to peacefully protest.

To be sure, the Sûreté du Québec did a poor job with their undercover operation.  The fact that the planted officers stood out in the crowd and had their cover blown certainly speaks to that.  But to hear people saying the police are intentionally provoking violence or that they simply should not be using undercover officers at protests is ludicrous.

Why shouldn’t police plant undercover operatives at events that have a potential to turn violent?  It provides another opportunity to observe behaviour to control violent developments before they arise and perhaps offers a better chance to apprehend the offenders.  If the officers are only there to blend in and take action when events go beyond being a peaceful protest, then how are any rights to peaceful protest being curtailed?  Nobody has a right to conduct illegal violent protests, which are the ones that undercover police are trying to prevent.

Undercover operations are used all the time, and they range from simple local operations to catch petty thieves, all the way up to organized crime rings.  Department stores hire security guards to blend in with other shoppers to identify suspicious behaviour and catch suspected shoplifters.  Police forces use undercover officers over a period of many years infiltrate the highest levels of crime families.  It is a valuable tool that police forces must use to help protect the public, and it can and should be used at public gatherings that have potential to turn violent.

In today’s editorial in the ever-comical Toronto Star, they call for a probe into Québec police behaviour.  They ask stupid questions like “why did one of the officers have a rock in his hand in the first place?”  Perhaps the Star’s editors don’t understand that undercover operations require you to blend in with the crowd around you?  If some protesters carry rocks, so should some of the officers.

The act of conducting undercover operations should be expected, not investigated.  If the police are to be investigated, it should be for doing a poor job of going undercover.

Cross-posted at www.exactlyright.ca.

Posted by Dave Hodson on August 25, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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» The Stink Over Undercover Cops from canadiancomment
The story of the undercover cops during the recent North American summit has caused quite a stink over at The Western Standard. First off, I haven\'t watched the video or followed the story much at all but it seems that some folks are in a stink for... [Read More]

Tracked on 2007-08-27 8:49:39 AM

» The Stink Over Undercover Cops from canadiancomment
The story of the undercover cops during the recent North American summit has caused quite a stink over at The Western Standard. First off, I haven't watched the video or followed the story much at all but it seems that some folks are in a stink for ... [Read More]

Tracked on 2007-08-27 11:42:13 AM


Cognitive dissonance much? Where were these "other protestors" carrying rocks? Did you even watch the video?

In this case, the three undercover cops were the only ones looking and acting like thugs. The protesters were conducting themselves in a civilized manner - witness the middle-aged gentleman who led the demo, repeatedly insisting that the "protestors" put down their rocks and unmask.

The actions of the QPP gave police everywhere a black eye, and will make it more difficult for *legit* undercover surveillance at protests in the future.

Posted by: The Iron Pug | 2007-08-25 8:14:55 AM

So those three clowns were working for the cops after all? The protester organizer was right? That's disgraceful...disgraceful of the police to behave that way. There's a big difference between being an undercover agent and being an agent provocateur, and the difference is holding a big rock in yr hand. "Blending in" my foot...there weren't enough people there to let those idiots blend in in any case. The Iron Pug is right; this gives the authorities a black eye.

Posted by: BillBC | 2007-08-25 8:27:35 AM

The history of actions of "protestors" at other demonstrations should give even the most feeble-minded a clue as to why there was an undercover police presence there. I applaud them for doing so and hope that in the future they will
augment their presence with even more.

Posted by: atric | 2007-08-25 8:43:34 AM

I did watch the video, and have no idea how many other protesters were carrying rocks--the video showed a small sample of the protesters there. The police said their undercover officer was handed the rock by another protester, and so far nobody has disputed that.

Perhaps the police were dressed too much like thugs, but that's one of the reasons I said they did a pretty bad job of conducting an undercover operation.

The police are clearly guilty of doing a bad job in conducting an undercover operation, but nothing more than that. There is nothing wrong with having undercover police in the crowds at these gatherings. I would feel more uncomfortable if they didn't.

Posted by: Dave Hodson | 2007-08-25 8:44:15 AM

I certainly think police should have an under cover presence when they think protests may turn violent, and previous protests in Quebec led security to believe that this one might. Fair enough.

However, even if other demonstrators had rocks, the video shows these two officers were the only ones pressing up against police lines. The demonstrators were actually trying to talk down the aggressive officers posing as thugs. There's a big difference between keeping an eye on an unruly crowd (good) and trying to cause a riot (bad). I think this line may have been crossed, and calls for an investigation to find out for sure are very appropriate in this case.

Posted by: Voice of Reason | 2007-08-25 8:52:30 AM

Guess if your "undercover" you have to act as the horde of demonstrators/kooks/protesters, whatever. Otherwise they would get suspicious, start asking questions and blow your cover.

Undercover work is all part of good policing, hopefully those who do it are well trained for it.

Posted by: LizJ | 2007-08-25 9:07:45 AM

Once again, where were these alleged "other protesters" carrying rocks? If indeed the cops were given rocks by these unseen mystery demonstrators, surely the QPP arrested those people or made a note of who they were - after all, it's the job of the police to maintain public order, n'est-ce pas? Why would they allow people to go around distributing rocks in a crowd of protesters?

Sorry, that doesn't wash.

Posted by: The Iron Pug | 2007-08-25 9:34:27 AM

I know.

The next time undercover agent infiltrate Hell's Angels, they should have a police-style buzz cut and wear a suit and tie.

That way they'd be up-front about their intentions.

Posted by: set you free | 2007-08-25 9:41:47 AM

I agree with Dave. There is nothing wrong with undercover cops to be among the demonstrators. Obviously these cops did a bad job beacuse they were noticed. Next time, use people who look like more demonstrators.

This is another case of the left making a mountain out of a molehill. And the media readily comply. Nobody's civil rights were violated.

Posted by: Herman | 2007-08-25 9:43:17 AM

Earlier comments on other blogs mentioned the comparatively low numbers of protesters.

Maybe the cops did them a favor and added a few aggressive ones to make the protest more noticeable?

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2007-08-25 9:51:07 AM

Iron Pug,

If they had a rock in hand it is because they don't throw them. They need to look like they are participating in the stupidity.

You know ... like holding a protest sign. Even an idiot can figure that out.

Posted by: John | 2007-08-25 9:55:41 AM

I went to your website and I like the layout. However, I can't read any of the articles, nor can I contact you to comment. In fact, nothing seems to work. What's the problem?

Posted by: Herman | 2007-08-25 9:56:32 AM

Yeah, the Left make a big deal of interfering with all manner of protests and thuggery. It's their right to pillage anything they damned well please,in their minds, knowing the Lefty mind has no capacity for reasoned thought, gotta wonder about our entrenched "freedoms", seems they've gone amok.
Add to their ammunition the Trudeau Charter, they have RIGHTS and those rights are as important as the law abiding citizens apparently.
Did any jurisdiction take down the Indian barricades and stop their thuggery in recent history?

Posted by: LizJ | 2007-08-25 10:35:24 AM

So, that cop was trying to 'blend in' when he shoved the union organizer, Dave Cole? That shove was a violent act, and can technically be considered an assault. Why would a professional policeman shove a peaceful protestor? No mentally healthy person could consider that it was an attempt to 'blend in'. It was clearly an attempt to incite violence. Had Dave Cole shoved back, the uniformed police would have been obligaged to take action.

If he was handed a rock by someone else, then when asked to drop it by a peaceful protestor, why didn't he drop it? Was he still trying to 'blend in'? That's rediculous. That't pretty much what got him outed.

The best the apologists can do is say these cops were guilty of a bad job of being undercover. But if they had managed to incite violence and cause an agressive put down of the peaceful protestors by the uniformed police, I suppose they would have been doing a 'good job'.

It might be possible to make a case for undercover police operations, but anything remotely resembling a sting operation should be illegal and officers in question jailed. There can never be any justification for police to provoke illegal acts.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 10:53:40 AM

It looks like the cops were being somewhat "instigative" in this case. That is downright dumb, if true.

Wanting to keep an eye on what's going on at a protest, even collecting intelligence is one thing; doing what they appeared to have done is something else altogether. Maybe not illegal, but certainly unethical.

Posted by: Hoser | 2007-08-25 11:06:07 AM

LizJ, you should have a look at the video posted on YouTube about this protest. The (Lefty) protestors were demanding the police put down their rocks and unmask themselves. The (Righty) cops refused to put down their rocks and shoved the protestors in response. Which side do you consider was showing the 'capacity for reasoned thought'?

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 11:07:41 AM

Hoser, sorry, but it's much worse than 'downright dumb'. Police are supposed to be professional people following orders. One has to assume that these police were doing just that.

You're not going to excuse your doctor for being 'dumb' if he screws up a surgery. You're not going to excuse your child's teacher for being 'dumb' if he teaches his personal ideology to your kids. Police have a job to do, and they are trusted to follow orders of their superiors. You have to assume that is what those police were doing.

There should be an investigation to find out why our police are instigating crimes. Who is giving those orders. Do those orders come to the police from political leaders? These are the questions that need to be asked. The 'bad apples' excuse should NEVER be accepted until thoroughly investigated.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 11:17:20 AM

John, carrying a rock is a lot different than carrying a protest sign. Even an idiot can figure that out.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 11:19:29 AM

Je me souviens of RCMP agents planting bombs in Québec in the FLQ era. In Canada, police forces use undercover agents to make trouble and therefore, manipulating de general public opinion. Nothing suprising there.

Posted by: Marc | 2007-08-25 11:28:08 AM


And you have shown your powers of recognition of the the difference between a rock and sign to be at least at the idiot level, congrats on that, but you still cannot seem to figure out that the protest sign in this particular event was the rock as I understand it.

Posted by: John | 2007-08-25 11:29:32 AM

Dave Hodson, you also are treating this thing as if all the blame rests on those particular police officers and that they were simply doing a bad job.

Yes, there may be justification for undercover police in some circumstances. But think about if you would consider it ok for infiltration of police ranks by individuals with another agenda. Would that be ok too? If not, why not?

Society works best when values of honesty and integrity are promoted. Free speech and protest is valued in our society because we assume that there are legitimate, honest points of view that differ from the forces that hold power. Our constitution and bill of rights explicity support the expression of those points of view and it is the obligation of the police to respect that fact.

Infiltration by police exhibiting behaviour of the worst elements of protest is a dark and serious matter. How can we know now that other violent protests were not also the work of police? This is very serious, and it should be investigated.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 11:31:12 AM

Yeah, whatever.

Need any more examples of lack of reasoned thought?

Our police men and women put their lives on the line every time they report for duty. It's tiresome how certain elements of our society like to smack them down at every opportunity.
Go on, look at the video and find something to nit pick and go lay charges against them, I'm sure the aging, career protester and Trudeau prodigy, Maude Barlow will assist.

By the way, is there a difference in holding a rock and throwing it?

Posted by: LizJ | 2007-08-25 11:36:55 AM

John, sorry, but the only rock I saw was in the hand of the police. All legitimate protestors were carrying nothing, or signs. In fact the main issue by the protestors was that the policeman should drop his rock.

Defending that policeman's actions is futile. Not only would he not drop the rock, he was violent toward the non-violent protestors. There can be no question at all that his intention was to incite violence where there was none. We assume he was ordered to do this until an investigation proves otherwise.

I now assume that violent protests in the past were instigated by police.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 11:39:20 AM

LizJ, is there a difference between holding a rock and throwing it? What do you mean by this? Do you not see that holding a rock when facing a police line expresses the intention to throw it? If a man approaches you holding a gun, do you feel comfortable? After all, there is a difference between holding a gun and shooting it, isn't there?

You just don't seem to be very perceptive about this kind of thing.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 11:43:27 AM

Author of this article is either stupid or a neo-con spinning the news and ignoring facts.

Posted by: Paul | 2007-08-25 11:57:54 AM

Paul, yes, I agree.

I've always wondered what it would be like coming on a site like this and trying to engage the supporters of the right. You see them so often making empty arguments on left-leaning sites; basically trying to provoke outrage.

Here I see they just don't have much in the way of intellingence to back up their views. It seems that they have some simplistic ideas about the value of authority, and have never thought very much about the implications of uncontrolled power.

Unfortunately, it's people at this level that make up the greater part of the population, and that's what makes it easy for authoritarians to rule.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 12:06:18 PM


You're correct. Simple pretty much covers it.

Posted by: Don | 2007-08-25 12:16:45 PM

Viewing the aurguments on this site the past little while leaves me to conclude that the Leftist initiate stupid statements and the Rightist are stupid for replying.

Posted by: Frico | 2007-08-25 12:22:01 PM

Frico, the problem seems to be that the right doesn't have much to say when confronted with intelligent argument. The right seems to favour simplistic position satements or insulting language.

Your answer fits that pattern.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 12:32:59 PM

Just face the facts guys. Authorities were wrong in this case and should be accountable.

Posted by: Edmontonian | 2007-08-25 12:34:28 PM


If our duly elected leaders are gathered for a totally boring discussion, does a gathering of protesters, in itself, constitute a threat that is sure to be carried out?

Can protesters be arrested for gathering ... or just for carrying out violent acts?

Would it be fair to say a group of protesters gathered and because they gathered, the sole purpose of the gathering is to incite riots? Well, that would seem to be a stupid conclusion.

Why, then, would somebody accuse a policeman who had a rock in his hand of intending to throw it?

I believe we are witnessing some type of double standard here from our friends.

Posted by: set you free | 2007-08-25 12:45:47 PM


Settle down, now.

Posted by: set you free | 2007-08-25 1:22:27 PM

Jeez, they're even mind readers those Lefties.

It appears "don rexer" was very involved with the protest, or whatever.

They had to be disappointed with the turnout for starters.
Anyone like to start another rumor, like the undercover guys had their guns?

Posted by: LizJ | 2007-08-25 1:26:28 PM

Notwithstanding don's, paul's and rexer's boring arugments, some points should be considered:
- as these types of protests go, this one was quite peaceful with real efforts made by organizers to ensure peace. We should congratulate them.
-while it is acceptable for police to do undercover work, was it appropriate in this place, and more to the point, were their actions appropriate?
- this is a lose, lose, lose situation. First, the protest organizers lose because what they were protesting against has been lost on the airwaves. The police lose because they conducted a bad operation. The public loses because we have lost sight of the violent activities of past protests; instead the police are now to blame for "inciting" protesters.

The situation has been muddied beyond belief, and the reality of what is going on, perhaps a debate about SPP, has disappeared.

I think the police should review their procedures. The protesters should also take the opportunity to soul search why these protests invariably end up in violence, notwithstanding the fairly good job they did tamping down violence in this case; I hope this holds sway in during the next protest.

Posted by: Shamrock | 2007-08-25 1:28:06 PM

Shamrock, you make some good points. Especially, you are right that the protestor's message has been lost.

You also point out what a good job the demonstrators did of preserving peace under difficult circumstances.

You also question if undercover work was reasonable in this place, and if the police actions were appropriate.

I would add to your comments that the uniformed police behaved well, which was a good thing.

Two ways I don't agree with you is when you say the protestors should soul search to learn why the protests 'invariably end in violence'. This time, there was a small amount of violence, all caused by the police. Any searching that should be done would be to learn if previous, greater violence might have been because of successful police provocation that went unexposed. APEC is another example that was exposed.

The other thing I disagree with is when you said my arguments are boring - but I guess that's a matter of opinion.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 1:50:48 PM


When you say ‘a small amount of violence,' do you mean a shove?

As opposed to what in the past?

Throwing rocks through businesses is about the same as a shove?

Does this mean that all violence is to be considered equal and punished equally?

So, a shove should be punished with the same severity as, say, throwing rocks through windows?

Posted by: set you free | 2007-08-25 1:56:05 PM

At least the protesters have the right to protest in Canada, peacefully. Not like in Russia where the opposition parties message, for the next Russian federal election, is being stifled by the Kremlin from immediately stopping peaceful protests and censoring the internet.

Maybe some of you view Putin as a strong, assertive, and aggressive leader because of such actions like these?

Those undercover officers need some more training lol.

Posted by: Edmontonian | 2007-08-25 2:06:58 PM

set free, that's just my point. All violence starts from something small, and escalates. A lot of people will shove back when someone shoves them in anger. Violence escalates. Maybe someone else would have got involved to protect that union guy, who was not a young man. Then the uniformed police might have got involved.

A shove is not so serious all by itself, but why did that policeman shove a peaceful person? That is the disturbing question. He had no reason to initiate any kind of violence, even small violence.

And as for throwing a rock through a window, that policeman was the only person with a rock. Being an infiltrator is dishonest to the people you are infiltrating. It is a lie. That cop was a liar. So I don't believe someone handed that cop a rock and asked him to throw it. I think he may have intended to throw that rock. And if he did intend that, he may have thrown other rocks in the past. So, maybe other demonstrations that ended in violence were incited by that same cop.

The point is that if people engage in lying and dishonest activity, how do you know how far their dishonesty goes? It is better for authority to be honest and trustworthy, so the population can have confidence in their integrity. Infiltration weakens that trust.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 2:22:01 PM

Edmontonian, we do have the right to protest in Canada. But how do you feel about protesting, when the man standing next to you might be a spy? Will you speak freely? Maybe better to be quiet. Maybe better not to protest at all.

It is the mark of a totalitarian society to keep people uncertain about who might report them to the authorities. In Canada, we do not need spies in our midst. How do we know they only go to protests? Maybe they join in NGO planning groups too. Maybe they monitor university classes. Who knows?

In Canada we need a strong government with the highest integrity. We need to be able to say with absolute certainty, 'Canada does not spy on its citizens'. This kind of infiltration weakens our country and our faith in our leaders' honesty.

Maybe you like this govrernment, but maybe the next government will be a party you really don't like. Do you want them spying on you? If you agree with it now you agree with it for any party in power.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 2:30:45 PM

Canada needs to spy on it's anarchists. Protest is fine, violent anarchy is not. There is too much of that now.

In a democratic society we settle our differences by debate and elections. If things don't go the way you like then you can campaign for change. If you cannot get the change you so desire, you will no doubt be able to find a country that is more to your liking.


Posted by: John | 2007-08-25 2:39:09 PM

For gods sake rexer, they were undercover, they had to act like they were part of the gang or whatever.
Maybe next time they can carry a sign and learn the songs. The problem is many such protest gatherings do get violent, people could be hurt or worse. They are not all signs and songs, cops know that too well.
In your mind the cops should have had a sign reading "Undercover Cop"?

Posted by: LizJ | 2007-08-25 2:40:40 PM

The law simply put, says if you throw the rock you are guilty of assault. If it hits someone, you are guilty of battery. The cops did neither so.......
Personally I feel more secure in knowing that our police forces are keeping an eye on these potential terrorists, and I don't give a damn how they conduct themselves. Sometimes you just have you get down to their level.
I applaud the Surete for their intent. Their execution of the detail leaves more than a little to be desired though. Next time I'm sure they'll be better prepared.

Posted by: atric | 2007-08-25 2:58:41 PM

John, you are simply a fool. Don't bother telling me to leave the country I was born in.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 3:03:04 PM

LizJ, they might as well have had a t-shirt saying COP on the back. No one could mistake thier cop appearance.

No, I'm saying we don't need authorities spying on our citizens. And we sure don't need violent spies.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 3:05:22 PM

John, I think you would love Russia then. The Kremlin always keeps the so called anarchists (Opposition parties) in check.

Potential terrorists? That is an absurd comment, attric.

Posted by: Edmontonian | 2007-08-25 3:06:59 PM

atric, I'm glad those spies were such bunglers, because they brought this nefarious activity out in the open for all to see.

tehnically, the law says if you lay your hand on someone in anger, you are guilty of assault. By that criteria, it's clear as can be that that cop assaulted the union guy. I agree it wasn't a serious assault, but who cares? Cops are there to enforce the laws, not break them, even in small ways.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 3:10:26 PM

Seems to me that if you are really engaged in undercover work, you join one of the organizations that is protesting and you join in advance of the protest. This did not happen in this case as illustrated by the fact that none of the protesters knew who the undercover guys were. As well, one of the reports said the cops were encouraging others to throw stones. That is going too far. Peaceful protest is legal in Canada and this "right wing nut" treats that right with as much respect as the right to free speech. The extent of the controversy cries out for an investitgation, preferably by an ombudsman rather than by an internal police organization.

Posted by: DML | 2007-08-25 3:33:05 PM

Maybe he did not put the so-called rock down was to prevent some activist protester from picking it up and throwing it. Maybe it had been taken away from someone intending to throw it. A good lawyer will make a strong case for the police and against the protesters. Probably show video of past cdn demonstrations, that were very violent.

Posted by: MaryT | 2007-08-25 4:01:54 PM

MaryT, you should look at the facts rather than imagine scenarios that exonerate the police. You call it a 'so-called rock'. What are you suggesting? Maybe it was actually a harmless sandwich or something? It was a big rock, Mary. Have a look at the video.

Your idea that police might go around picking up all the rocks they can find to prevent other people from throwing them doesn't make any kind of sense to me. Are you serious?

The cop had a rock in his hand and refused to put it down when the protest organizer demanded that he do so. That makes him a threat to everyone.

This was a rough looking type who didn't identify himself as a policeman. He is weilding a big rock. He has a mask over his face. What kind of behaviour is this? Does that sound like someone you would look to for protection?

Really Mary, think about what you are saying.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 4:23:39 PM

DML, you have a balanced view. This should indeed be taken seriously. A proper investigation is needed to reassure Canadians that this behaviour is not condoned by police or thier political masters.

Posted by: don rexer | 2007-08-25 4:28:07 PM

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