The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana Thursday Feb. 6 filed a lawsuit with the goal of learning how the state may respond to expected protests against the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
In its complaint, the ACLU says it requested documents from Montana Disaster and Emergency Services and the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation based on its concern that the agencies are preparing to impede first amendment freedoms like free speech and assembly in a coordinated crackdown with local, state and federal law enforcement. The complaint was filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court.
ACLU attorney Lillian Alvernaz says in early 2018, the ACLU filed a public records request about government preparation for potential protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, but she says the agencies are improperly withholding the documents.
“And the documents they did produce are so heavily redacted it is hard to tell what the document even is,” Alvernaz says.
The ACLU says the two agencies cited the confidential criminal justice information statutes in declining the records request.
The ACLU also says the agencies put a "gag order" on the records they turned over, which prevents the ACLU from sharing the information with the public.
Alvernaz says Keystone XL developer TC Energy has announced it’ll start pipeline pre-construction in February and March and construction in August.
“So, we are hoping to get protesters the information to them as soon as we can of what the government is doing to prepare for their protests,” says Alvernaz.
The ACLU’s concerned that law enforcement may take similar measures against expected Keystone XL protesters as it did during protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 and 2017. That includes what the ACLU calls unlawful surveillance, excessive force and criminalization of speech and assembly.
Alvernaz says argument in court is not always guaranteed and the complaint will have to survive a motion to dismiss first.
The Montana Division of Criminal Investigation on behalf of itself and Montana Disaster and Emergency Services declined to give comment.