Corporate security has a role to play in protecting a company against protesters. Normally, that role begins on the company’s property line and focuses on preventing physical damage to the company’s personnel, its property and infrastructure, and its intellectual property. There is a growing trend, however, in allegations of corporate interference with the manner in which law enforcement does their job, including attempting to influence what charges are brought and involvement in decision making on the ground. This should be alarming to the general population, law enforcement, the protesters and the shareholders of the companies themselves.

I find the most egregious of these to be the attempts by some companies to have protesters charged with terrorist offences. Gogebic Taconite recently described relatively minor vandalism as “eco-terrorism.” However, those that did the actual vandalism did not use the name of the official protest group that is opposing the company’s mining, and the official protest group has not even acknowledged the fact that the vandalism happened. Worse still, TransCanada’s briefings to law enforcement have included a PowerPoint slide deck (obtained using the Freedom of Information Act) that recommends to law enforcement that protesters be charged with terrorist offences.

TransCanada’s attempt to have protests classified as terrorism is the latest attempt to repair an ever worsening situation that has continually been ahead of them and should at this point be concerning shareholders because of its potential to affect policy decisions about the future of the Keystone pipeline. It demonstrates a cynical misuse of the statute. What would be worse is if law enforcement abdicated their role and allowed TransCanada or their contemporaries to supplant law and order, including the First Amendment, with corporate interest. While I don’t hold with the particular tactics in use by the protesters, I do believe in engagement, de-escalation and proportionate response, all of which are lacking in TransCanada’s relationship with the Keystone protest movement.

Here’s the problem from both perspectives – an overreach by local law enforcement that results in a lawsuit where corporate security was involved in the planning and giving of direction enables the plaintiff to join the company in the lawsuit, creating much deeper pockets. It’s inevitable that the plaintiff will present a case focusing on the company’s involvement or attempts to influence the process, and that’s the kind of thing juries love to punish robustly.

Corporate security – no matter the backgrounds of the individuals – has no business giving direction on police tactics or preferable charges to the authorities. There is a very clear line between liaison and direction. In the drive to minimize risk to their companies, they are actually increasing it, something to which shareholders take a very dim view.