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Simon Fraser University Hires Controversial Private Investigation Firm to Film Striking Education Workers

SFU hires Lions Gate Risk Management to surveil strike action across three university campuses

Teaching support staff at Simon Fraser University say that the university has hired a private security firm to surveil strike actions at all three university campuses.

The Teaching Support Staff Union’s 1600 members have been on the picket line for nearly two weeks fighting for a fair contract. Their last contract expired in April of 2022 and the union has been bargaining with SFU since November of last year.

The TSSU represents “people who teach and/or do research at SFU but who aren’t faculty members,” including teaching assistants, sessional instructors and research assistants.

Members of the union escalated their strike to a full work stoppage in late September following SFU’s “refusal to offer a reasonable contract after 41 sessions of bargaining and 19 months without a collective agreement.”

Key demands for the union include a cost of living adjustment, compensation that reflects the workload of teaching staff and job security for instructors.

“SFU has cleaned up a lot of grammar and commas, and has essentially not budged in the slightest on any of our fundamental issues with the  collective agreement,” TSSU trustee Kyle Simpson told PressProgress.

“SFU claims it cannot afford to pay instructors a living wage, but it seems to suddenly have the budget to hire private spies.”

Photo credit: Michael Y.C. Tseng

Members say that they have noticed security staff – separate from university security and mall security at the Surrey and Vancouver campuses – taking photos and filming union members and their family and friends on the picket line.

TSSU members have themselves provided photos and videos documenting a number of individuals who appear to be private investigators from Lions Gate Risk Management Group taking photographs and videos of striking members at all three university campuses.

The TSSU says SFU’s chief safety and risk officer, Galib Bhayani confirmed the individuals photographed were with LGRMG.

The TSSU said in a statement that the private investigators have “attempted to obtain confidential union information” from TSSU members “while pretending to be unaffiliated members of the public.” 

Simpson said investigators have been seen speaking to multiple security guards at SFU’s various campuses, and one SFU security supervisor informed Simpson that the investigators told them they were employed by Lions Gate.

Photo credit: Michael Y.C. Tseng

Simpson says they saw these individuals as early as their very first day picketing in September of this year.

“Starting from our first day of picketing, there have been people who have been kind of wandering around our lines, video recording us, we’ve seen them talking with security, both SFU security, as well as if we’re in Vancouver or Surrey,  there’s also the mall security,” Simpson said.

“The security that I spoke to told me that there was a group that was hired, and they are monitoring so that there’s video evidence if anything happens. But we’ve noticed that they’ve very explicitly been video recording us, our lines, they’ve actually gone up to our members posing as community members and asking questions and generally making people feel very unsafe.”

A video obtained by PressProgress shows a private investigator at SFU’s Burnaby Campus on Monday first refusing to name his employer before later acknowledging that he is employed by Lions Gate.

When asked what investigators are there for, the employee replied that it is to “just make sure everybody is safe.”

Video credit: Kelvin Gawley/TSSU

Lions Gate has been previously hired to protect the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, as well as forestry company Teal-Jones Group to surveil and undermine Indigenous land defenders on Vancouver Island.

Photo credit: Michael Y.C. Tseng

Their website adds that Lions Gate works to support an “organization’s ability to effectively and efficiently respond to risks and challenges,” including in relation to “protest activity, labour disputes, (and) community uprisings.”

In a statement to PressProgress, SFU said that the investigators with LGRMG are not there to provide security, but instead to “document picket activity.”

“Under the B.C. Labour code, TSSU members on a picket line are obligated to allow safe and unimpeded passage for anyone choosing to cross. The university continues to receive complaints from faculty, staff and students about behaviour that does not align with the labour code, including entries being blocked,” SFU spokesperson Will Henderson said in a statement to PressProgress.

“The university has made TSSU aware of these complaints. LGRMG was hired to document picket activity and any behaviour from any community member that is in contravention of the criminal code or violates university policies. LGRMG are not providing security services or engaging with picketers.

SFU did not comment on how much the university spent hiring LGRMG.

 


Update: Following publication of this story,  SFU announced that they have concluded the contract with LGRMG.

“In response to concerns from our community, SFU has concluded the contract with LGRMG and will reassess how we support safety on our picket lines going forward, as well as how we assess and determine contracted safety providers in the future.”

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Rumneek Johal
Reporter
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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