This is an update of an earlier post about our greatest Canadian, Thomas Clement Douglas. Readers may remember that members of the RCMP’s “Security Service,” which some of us used to call the SS, followed Tommy around like puppies for decades, convinced that he was a Soviet agent.
They were still at it in the 1970s, by which time they had decided to trail Nova Scotia feminist singer Rita MacNeil as well. “She’s the one who composes and sings women’s lib songs,” said one particularly thick RCMP undercover. That was obviously sufficient to warrant an expenditure of tax dollars to keep tabs on her.
As I noted in my original piece, getting access to the files on Douglas has been, and continues to be, a running court battle. Even in 2011, CSIS and the government have taken the view that national security remains an issue with their release. Most likely, it would further expose the utter paranoia that characterized undercover police work at the time, and may still. It could indeed be a matter of national security to keep from the public the sheer ineptness and obtuseness of those who are charged with defending it.
The battle for disclosure has met with some success. Here, courtesy of the Toronto Sun[!] is a partial document dump covering the period 1962-1974. The files are an exhausting read, but worth the slog. Once in a while a senior officer would try to curb his underlings’ enthusiasm—“what has this got to do with subversive activity?” was written beside a boneheaded note drawing attention to a newspaper article about Douglas’ prediction of the demise of the Liberal Party. Most of the file material, though, was of the “he spoke against the Vietnam war” or “there were Communists at the same meeting” variety.
The release of these files has been thanks to the on-going efforts of Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill, who was forced to turn to the courts after Stephen Harper’s tame Information Commissioner agreed with CSIS that the documents shouldn’t be released. Bronskill is still on the job, trying to gain access to hundreds more pages and blacked-out portions of the ones already released. Tomorrow the case for compete disclosure of the Douglas file will be argued before the Federal Court by his capable lawyer, Paul Champ.
The Crown (whose factum I have) claims that “Most of the records withheld do not concern Mr. Douglas but contain incidental and other reporting wherein his name is mentioned.” How they ended up on his file is not explained: moreover, it appears by inference that some of the withheld documents do concern Mr. Douglas.
I wish Champ and Bronskill well. A police officer’s mind is actually an interesting place to wander through, if architecturally a little unadorned. And the material so far has made me feel positively nostalgic—naming people I knew and events I attended back in the day. I look forward to the next installments.