CSIS and the RCMP classify some animal rights, environmental and aboriginal activists alongside terrorists that pose a threat to national security, reveal documents obtained by two Canadian academics.

The documents were acquired by Queen's University's Jeffrey Monaghan and University of Victoria's Kevin Walby through Access to Information requests. The two sociologists analyzed the documents in a recent paper, "Making up ‘Terror Identities.'"

Issued between 2005 and 2010, the documents describe surveillance undertaken before the Vancouver Olympics, the G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto, and a cancelled North American leaders' summit; all planned for the year 2010.

The documents single out People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Greenpeace as among worrisome "multi issue extremist" groups, a category "described as activist groups, indigenous groups, environmentalists and others who are publicly critical of government policy."

As the group mentioned most often in the obtained documents, the paper says Greenpeace activists were among those targeting "critical infrastructure," a definition that expanded over time from energy production facilities to corporate symbols such as the Royal Bank of Canada.

"Domestic extremists maintain the intent and capability to carry out attacks against property in Canada," said the intelligence documents. "Given the use of direct action tactics by domestic extremists, the threat of serious violence cannot be discounted."

Greenpeace Canada's executive director, Bruce Cox, said the government is trying to "intimidate and smear" legitimate, non-violent groups that threaten its interests.

Cox told CTVs Power Play Thursday that he was at first surprised to see Greenpeace described as an extremist group in surveillance documents, but that quickly turned into dismay.

"I think we need to see this for what it is – it's another element of this government's orchestrated campaign to basically discredit anybody who opposes their agenda," he said.

Cox said Greenpeace's mandate is protection of bio-diversity and raising awareness of critical environmental issues -- not achieving its goals through aggression and violence.

The Queen's research paper notes many left-wing groups that use direct-action tactics -- such as protests and publicity stunts -- came to be seen as potential threats.

"Intelligence agencies have blurred the categories of terrorism, extremism and activism into an aggregate threat matrix," they wrote, noting the expanded definition allows intelligence agencies to engage in broader surveillance than they would legally be able to otherwise.

Monaghan and Walby say the development of the "multi issue extremism" category represents a shift in Canadian intelligence gathering that began around 2007. Previously, the focus had been on "Al Qaeda inspired terror groups," their report states.

"Mission creep within Canadian agencies was extensive and, over five years, transformed from abstract concerns around Al Qaeda terrorist groups to intensive surveillance of political opponents that publicly criticized a myriad of issues associated with hosting the Olympic Games."

The paper, published in the journal "Policing and Society," said targets were increasingly defined on the basis of suspicion, as opposed to concrete evidence. Infiltration of such groups was a key tactic, according to the security agencies' documents, a method that has come under fire by groups involved the G20 protests.

Cox said that kind of attitude toward environmental and other groups more resembles "U.S.-style Republican politics and campaigning than it does governing."

Meanwhile, the documents obtained by the research team also reveal ongoing rifts between the intelligence agencies themselves. Monaghan and Walby's paper describes a "longstanding animosity between the RCMP and CSIS."

In recent debates surrounding the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipeline projects, the Conservative government has criticized environmental groups who receive foreign support, often labelling them "extremists."

That designation, along with recently introduced-legislation to give police access to Canadians' Internet information, would make it even easier for police to spy on those involved in such protest movements, critics say.

With files from Sonja Puzic