By Richard Fidler
Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), is engaged in massive surveillance of environmentalists and Indigenous opponents of extractive energy projects. And it is sharing some of its “intelligence” with the oil industry and its regulator, the National Energy Board.
On July 8 the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) published a massive collection of newly-released documents — more than 8,000 pages, in 19 volumes — obtained as a result of a complaint filed in 2014 against CSIS and the RCMP. The documents, dubbed the Protest Papers, are now available here. Although heavily redacted, they reveal that CSIS has collected massive files on groups engaged in peaceful advocacy and protest.
The BCCLA complaint was rejected by the CSIS watchdog, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), but its report acknowledged that CSIS participated in meetings with Natural Resources Canada and the private sector, including the petroleum industry, at CSIS headquarters. These briefings involved “national security” matters, the committee said.
“Spying on people who are exercising their right to protest is an attack on freedom of expression,” says the BCCLA. “It creates a climate of fear that chills free expression and stifles public participation.”
The Protest Papers confirm that even prior to passage of the Trudeau government’s National Security Act, Bill C-59, CSIS was treating environmentalists and Indigenous activists as threats to “national security.” The new law authorizes CSIS to go much further.
Adopted on June 19 in the last session of Parliament prior to the October federal election, the National Security Act empowers CSIS not only to monitor but to “reduce” threats to national security using, if it deems necessary, disruption tactics reminiscent of those employed in the 1960s and 1970s by the RCMP Security Service to harass and disrupt peaceful dissent.
Some of those activities, exposed at that time in the media, prompted the creation of official commissions of inquiry: in Quebec, the Keable commission established by the Parti Québécois government, itself a target of the Security Service; and, in response, the federal government’s McDonald Commission, tasked with finding ways to make legal what was currently illegal, as the then prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, put it.
The McDonald commission recommended the separation of the “intelligence gathering” function of political policing from RCMP enforcement through assigning that function to a new agency, which began operating in 1984 as CSIS. Under its enabling legislation, it was given sweeping authority to monitor “threats to the security of Canada,” the said threats including, in part, “activities directed toward or ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of the constitutionally established system of government in Canada.” These activities might, the Act said, “include lawful advocacy, protest or dissent” if “carried on in conjunction with” such subversive intentions.
The new legislation, however, goes further in providing legal authority to the policing of progressive political dissent. As the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) stated in a May 2019 brief on Bill C-59, CSIS is now allowed
“to broaden the scope of its surveillance activities, from targeting specific people under investigation to targeting entire classes of datasets. This is a clear change in the operations of CSIS to one of potential mass surveillance, collecting vast amounts of information about Canadians and non-Canadians. CSIS and the government have not demonstrated the necessity of these dangerous powers.”
Furthermore, CSIS agents, and individuals under their direction, are now granted immunity for “an act or omission that would otherwise constitute an offence” if they act in “good faith” and believe “on reasonable grounds that the commission of the act or omission” is “reasonable and proportional in the circumstances….”
These acts or omissions may violate Canadian law, including Charter rights, provided they are approved by a judge. Normally, a judge reviews a warrant application to ensure it does not violate the Charter; in this case, the review will be to ascertain grounds for Charter violation.
The ICLMG, along with other rights defenders, unsuccessfully called on Parliament to “repeal CSIS’ current threat reduction powers.”
CSIS is already attempting to justify its new power with the claim that it can use it to disrupt foreign attempts to influence the forthcoming federal election campaign, even though there is little or no evidence of such attempts — and the Canadian government, for its part, is already heavily involved in interfering in democratic elections in other countries such as Venezuela. Moreover, the expanded “national security” mandate may fuel other attempts to intimidate opponents of Canada’s assault on our climate and environment, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s provincial inquiry into the supposed “foreign-funded special interests” undermining the tar sands industry.
These ominous developments recall the campaign that developed decades ago in opposition to the illegal and undemocratic activities of the CSIS forerunner, the RCMP Security Service. As mentioned, the federal government responded to the revelations of Security Service activities by appointing a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP, better known as the McDonald Commission after its chair, Justice David McDonald.
Among those groups that took advantage of the Commission’s proceedings to expose political police activities was a group to which I belonged at the time, the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL). Our brief, authored by me, was published in a book now out of print, RCMP, The Real Subversives. It was unique in its explanation of the roots and rationale of spying and disruption by the capitalist state in relation to dissenting opinions, individuals and organizations.
I posted previously on this blog the book’s introductory essay. I have now scanned the RWL brief. What follows is the full text, which can also be downloaded at http://web.ncf.ca/ga020/RWLbriefonRCMSecurityService.html.
 The Act respecting national security matters, S.C. 2019, was promptly given royal assent by the Governor General on June 21. In favour: Liberals and Green Party. Opposed (for differing reasons): Conservatives, NDP, Bloc Québécois.
 Vanguard Publications, 1978.
RCMP: The Real Subversives
The following is the text of the brief submitted to the federal government’s McDonald commission by the Revolutionary Workers League. It was presented at a public hearing of the commission in Toronto January 18, 1978 by a delegation of the RWL led by Richard Fidler and Bret Smiley.
We welcome this opportunity to present the views of the Revolutionary Workers League to your commission. In the six months since the commission was established, this is one of the first times it has heard from the victims of RCMP Security Service harassment.
The Revolutionary Workers League believes that the Security Service is guilty of enormous crimes against democratic rights. Those crimes, we will show, result from the very nature of the task assigned the SS by the government—which is to curb and even suppress the activities of those who hold dissident political views.
We will cite some of the ways in which the RWL has been victimized by the “dirty-trick” squads of the Security Service.
We will demonstrate that SS harassment of organizations like the RWL has no justification in law, and is based on undemocratic political concepts.
We believe the Security Service should be disbanded, and that the police criminals must be brought to justice without delay. The RCMP’s secret files on millions of Canadians must be opened, and the dossiers turned over to the victims. The victims of political police “dirty tricks” must be compensated.
These views are founded in part on our own experience. So it is important to explain briefly exactly what the Revolutionary Workers League is, and what we stand for.
The RWL: What it is, what it wants
The Revolutionary Workers League was founded in August 1977 through the fusion of three organizations — the Revolutionary Marxist Group, the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière, and the Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire. The RWL is the section in Canada of the Fourth International, the international party of socialist revolution founded under the leadership of Leon Trotsky in 1938. We trace our origins back to the early Communist Party, before its Stalinist degeneration in the late 1920s.
We hold that this society needs to be reorganized on the basis of production for human needs, not for private profit. We think that a socialist society, based on collective ownership of the productive apparatus, economic planning, and workers control, will be qualitatively more democratic than the capitalist “democracy” we know today. As our founding Statement of Principles declares: “Revolutionary Marxists actively defend all democratic rights of the masses, including freedom of movement, of assembly, of belief, of speech, and all trade-union rights. Moreover, they seek to qualitatively expand all these rights in a workers state by ending the economic and political limitations imposed on them by the capitalist order.”
We think that such a society will be achieved only through the struggle of the working class and its allies, organized independently of the capitalists and their political parties. That is why we support every move by the working people in the direction of independent labor political action. In English Canada, we give critical support to candidates of the New Democratic Party against the candidates of the Liberal, Conservative, and Social Credit parties. In Quebec, our members are active in the movement to found a workers party based on the unions.
On many issues our views are shared by many, if not most, Canadians and Québécois. These issues include the right of every worker to a job; the right of the Québécois to self-determination and to enact whatever laws they wish in defense of their language, culture, and national rights; the right of women to equal pay, abortion, and childcare; opposition to racism and support of the aboriginal rights of the Native peoples; support of the rights of immigrants, especially against undemocratic legislation like the new Law C-24; and opposition to Canada’s membership in imperialist military alliances and Ottawa’s complicity in efforts to frustrate the liberation struggles of oppressed peoples in southern Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and elsewhere.
On the question of establishing socialism, however, we are in a minority. We seek to win a majority to our point of view.
We engage in a wide range of activities to explain our ideas and win support for our program. We hold public meetings and distribute leaflets, books, and newspapers. Our members participate in organizing demonstrations, such as the large demonstrations that opposed the war in Vietnam or that supported Quebec’s right to legislate protection of the French language. Many of our members are active in the labor movement, and the movement for women’s liberation.
We run in elections; for example, the RWL fielded candidates recently for the mayoralty in Edmonton, and in the provincial election in Manitoba.
None of these activities is illegal or undemocratic.
The Revolutionary Workers League and its predecessor organizations have never engaged in terrorism in any form, and have circulated books and pamphlets to try to convince others that it is ineffective and counterproductive.
The RCMP has never produced any evidence to show that we advocate or engage in violent or illegal activity.
But despite that fact, our organization — in common with other political parties, Québécois nationalists, trade unionists, farmers organizations, Native activists, and others—has been subjected to a long campaign of harassment, disruption, and intimidation by the RCMP and other police forces in English Canada and Quebec.
In recent years, on various occasions, members and supporters of the RWL and its predecessor organizations have been subjected to police raids; their homes have been searched, documents seized.
Some have been jailed arbitrarily without charge, as during the War Measures crisis. Some have lost their jobs because the RCMP and other police provided information on their political affiliations to their employers.
Members have been visited by police and threatened in attempts to gain information or to turn them into informers. Their relatives have been visited and bullied by police.
In at least two instances, attempts to infiltrate police informers into our ranks were uncovered.
Police have written anonymous “poison-pen” letters and circulated them to our members in efforts to stir dissension in our ranks.
Our offices have been broken into, and political files and subscribers lists have been stolen; there is every reason to suspect police involvement or complicity. We will briefly describe some of these incidents later in this presentation.
We have been placed on secret government blacklists. An immigration department blacklist of this type has just recently come to light.
All of these police actions are designed to hinder and prevent our organization from functioning legally and normally. They are an assault not only on our democratic rights, but on the rights of all Canadians and Québécois.
In this presentation, we intend to explain our view of why the RCMP and other police forces conduct such activities, why they should be opposed, and what should be done to put an end to them.
The McDonald Commission: Part of the cover-up
First, however, we want to make clear that in our view, the purpose of this commission is not to expose the secret, undemocratic activities of the RCMP Security Service. And it will in no way remedy such practices.
The commission was set up only after the Quebec government had established the Keable inquiry into illegal RCMP actions. Its aim is clearly to provide a federal counterweight to the Keable inquiry. In his repeated attempts to quash the proceedings of the Keable inquiry, Solicitor General Francis Fox has used the existence of this federal commission to buttress his absurd claim that Quebec has no right to investigate evidence of illegalities committed by Ottawa’s police on Quebec territory.
But what is the McDonald commission? Prime Minister Trudeau, hardly a disinterested observer, has stated that the commission’s task is to propose ways to legalize practices of the RCMP that may at present be illegal. In this respect, the commission would be following in the footsteps already traced by the 1960s Royal Commission on Security. That commission, it will be recalled, helped to prepare the way for the establishment of the now-infamous Security Planning and Analysis Group — since revealed to be responsible for compiling illegal blacklists of civil servants, trade unionists, and members of a wide range of organizations for use by the federal cabinet.
The McDonald commission, since its establishment more than half a year ago, has held few hearings, still fewer in public. It says it may take years to issue its report. Meanwhile, the Trudeau government refuses to take any action to stop illegal practices by its security police or to prosecute the offenders, instead referring the mounting disclosures of police illegalities to the commission. The McDonald commission is a federal government vehicle for controlling information on RCMP practices.
More than a month ago, the commission announced that it was investigating up to 100 incidents of possible wrongdoing by the RCMP, including break-ins, illegal wiretaps, and mail openings. Reports in the news media indicate that the commission has been given an RCMP internal report prepared in the summer of 1977 by Supt. J.A. NowIan, dealing with illegal actions of the RCMP that are not being investigated by the Keable inquiry. It has been offered, and presumably has agreed to accept, the transcripts of the Keable inquiry’s secret hearings.
If this commission is to have any credibility, it must inform the victims of these police attacks, so that they may take appropriate legal measures. The commission should also allow the alleged victims of RCMP illegalities to be present during any investigation by the commission of those allegations. The Revolutionary Workers League formulated these requests in a letter to the commission on December 21, 1977.
We have been informed by the commission secretary, however, that if the commission finds evidence of police illegalities, its only responsibility is to inform the federal cabinet — which may well have authorized the illegalities in the first place. Moreover, the commission has failed to answer our request to be represented by counsel in any investigation of incidents involving our organization. Yet lawyers for the RCMP, the Quebec Sûreté, and Solicitor General Fox and his two predecessors, Messrs. Allmand and Goyer, participate in the proceedings of the commission, with the right to cross-examine witnesses. The client of each of these lawyers has something to protect, if not hide.
This commission, hand-picked by Ottawa, represents no one and speaks for no one except the Trudeau government. Consider the close political and personal ties each of the commissioners has with that government. The chairman, Mr. Justice David McDonald, is a former president of the Alberta Liberal Party, and a personal associate of Trudeau. Donald Rickerd is a former business associate and friend of Francis Fox. And Guy Gilbert, a member of the Quebec Liberal Party, is known to have urged Fox to run for Parliament and to have personally contributed to his campaigns. Even the secretary of the commission, H.R. Johnson, is a former advisor to Prime Minister Trudeau, once employed by the Privy Council office. The commission has been aptly com-pared to an “old boys’ network.”
Will a commission like this be inclined to shed full light on the RCMP’s activities, to release information that could seriously embarrass the government in short, to reveal the truth about the secret, undemocratic activities of Canada’s political police? To ask the question is to answer it.
The real task of the commission is to deflect, cover-up, and legitimatize secret police activity —just like its forerunner, the Royal Commission on Security.
The Revolutionary Workers League has no illusions in this commission’s intentions or utility. Our presentation is designed only to use its public hearings as a forum, however limited, to expose the RCMP’s attacks on democratic rights, especially those practices and policies of which we have been the direct victims.
‘Security’ spying: Terrorism is not the issue
The police actions whose disclosure forced the creation of this commission had nothing to do with countering illegal activities like espionage, terrorism, kidnapping, and the like.
This point is underscored by the ridiculous attempts of RCMP officials, in testimony before the Keable inquiry and this commission, to portray the targets of their dirty-tricks squads as being linked with terrorism or espionage.
The following four examples are the only “evidence” they have presented to prove their contentions. All four fall apart at the first contact with the facts.
1. The break-in at the Agence de Presse Libre du Québec, police said, was designed to procure a letter that outlined plans for terrorist actions in Quebec to be carried out with possible Cuban government collaboration.
The actual letter, made public by the Keable inquiry, had a quite different content. The authors, Jacques and Louise Cosette-Trudel, who were implicated in the kidnapping of James Cross in October 1970, renounced terrorism, saying they were “overwhelmed” and “revolted” by their actions in the October Crisis, and had come to believe in “the necessity of putting a stop to armed agitation.”
Once in possession of the letter, the RCMP tried to suppress it. An RCMP officer analyzing the letter in a report for his superiors wrote that it “could easily impress many people in this milieu.”
As for the alleged Cuban connection, it was equally unfounded. The Cosette-Trudel letter spoke of Prensa Latina’s desire to compile files on Canadian politicians — a simple task for the Cuban government press agency, since not only is there a Cuban embassy in Ottawa, but Prensa Latina itself had recently opened a bureau in Montreal!
2. Chief Supt. Donald Cobb, a participant in the APLQ break-in, told the McDonald commission about a “Parizeau spy ring,” through which Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau attempted to gain information on government operations. The story would be laughable — what political party with the mass support of the PQ wouldn’t have access to such information? — if it weren’t for Cobb’s absurd attempt to suggest that the PQ leaks such information . . . to France. Rather than demonstrating the dangers of French espionage in Canada, a common enough theme with some federal ministers, the incident simply shows the pathetic lengths to which the RCMP is prepared to go in its efforts to paint the PQ, and Quebec nationalism, as something “foreign” and “disloyal.”
3. Then there is the famous barn the Mounties burned down, allegedly to block a meeting between the “FLQ” and the U.S. Black Panthers. Few newspapers have bothered to point out that the “barn” was in fact a rather well-known social and cultural center for Quebec nationalists; for a period it even quartered a jazz ensemble, the Jazz Libre du Québec—a sinister outfit indeed.
4. As for the Mounties’ dark hints of an alleged aircraft hijacking plot they were worried about in 1972, it seems that now they’d rather not talk about it. Recent news reports indicate that three of the five “FLQ” members plotting the hijacking, including the one who initiated the proposal, were RCMP agents. In other words, the “hijack” plot may well have been a massive provocation designed to once again put Quebec under the War Measures — in the middle of a federal election campaign.
Far from confronting a wave of terrorism, it now turns out that during this period the RCMP was actually attempting to stimulate “FLQ” violence through such means as issuing a forged “FLQ” communique attacking Pierre Vallières’ renunciation of terrorism. This communique, replete with inflammatory appeals to “reach our goal with arms” and for “violent revolution to liberate us from capitalist tyrants,” was written to counter the views of those trying to stop terrorism.
Most interesting, there is the information of Security Service agents themselves that of the three “FLQ” cells they claim existed in 1972, all had members who were police, and the police may even have controlled these cells. One is led to speculate on the personnel and the real intentions behind those who were said to be plotting an airplane hijacking during the 1972 federal election campaign—a plot that is even said to have included plans to kill someone.
The latest information, we suggest, when put together with various disclosures about the events of October 1970 since the October crisis, would indicate the need to reopen the dossier on the War Measures crisis. Were there police agents provocateurs in the groups that kidnapped James Cross and Pierre Laporte? How did Laporte die? Did Ottawa know the kidnappings were planned before they happened? If so, why did it not move to prevent them?
And behind all these unanswered questions, there is the big political question about the October crisis: Why was the War Measures Act invoked?
Was there really an “apprehended insurrection”? By whom’? We believe that a serious investigation that had access to all the relevant police and government files would find that the invocation of the War Measures Act was itself a provocation—not by terrorists, but by the Trudeau government, designed to intimidate the Québécois with a massive display of federal force, to show them what would happen if they chose to exercise their right to self-determination. The kidnappings were simply a pretext.
The relevance of such an investigation is driven home by the prime minister’s recent threat to once again wield the War Measures bludgeon.
The October crisis is invoked again and again by the federal government as justification of its campaign against so-called subversives. Yet Ottawa is plainly afraid—deadly afraid—of any in-dependent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding that fateful chapter in the country’s history. It is now before the Quebec courts for the fifth time in two months, seeking to frustrate the Keable inquiry’s timid encroachments on this forbidden subject.
Yet the issue cannot be avoided: any investigation of the RCMP Security Services and police repression in recent years must confront the events of October 1970. The pattern of evidence raised by subsequent events—the break-in at the APLQ, the theft of Parti Québécois membership lists, the spying on the public sector unions, and so on—leads back inexorably to those unanswered questions about the War Measures crisis.
As to the APLQ break-in whose disclosure set in motion the current revelations, there are some important questions concerning it that just beg for answers. One that has yet to be aired in any satisfactory way, we believe, has to do with the functions of Robert Samson, the RCMP officer who first broke the story. Samson, it will be recalled, was on trial in 1976 for bombing the home of an executive of a supermarket chain, during a strike by the company’s employees. Why was an RCMP agent bombing the boss’s house? Did he think the FLQ and the Black Panthers were about to hold a meeting there? Or was the RCMP trying to frame the union for the bombing?
No, it was not the struggle against “terrorism” that preoccupied the RCMP in these incidents, or in all the other questionable activities attributed to the Security Service. Their real concern was the radicalization of the mass organizations of the Quebec working class and the nationalist movement—especially the most militant leading wing of these movements—in this politically volatile part of the Canadian state. Likewise in English Canada—from surveillance of the New Democratic Party to cornpiling reports on trade-union activities; from spying on university students to using information from medical records to intimidate and blackmail radicals—the real aim of Canada’s political police is to investigate, harass, and disrupt a wide range of organizations whose only “crime,” in the eyes of the Trudeau government, is that they are capable of expressing opposition to the status quo.
‘Subversion’: an ideological crime
We maintain that the principal, overriding function of the 1,900-strong Security Service of the RCMP is to restrict the rights of free speech and freedom of association in this country, by curbing and even suppressing the activities of those who hold dissident political views.
The police activities cited earlier were carried out in the name of combatting “subversion.” But what is “subversion”?
Democratic tradition, backed by an impressive body of jurisprudence, has long held that criminal liability attaches only to specific actions, not one’s views. It is true that in every capitalist democracy this principle is often violated in practice, and in many countries in law as well.
But the people of Canada and Quebec have a long history of opposition to attempts to frame people on the basis of their political views. For example, there was the long struggle for repeal of Section 98 of the Criminal Code. Section 98, adopted after the Winnipeg General Strike, outlawed membership in any association said to advocate or defend the use of force to bring about governmental, industrial, or economic change. Anyone who attended meetings of such an association, distributed its literature, or spoke out in its support, was presumed to be a member. This law was used to frame up and jail labor militants, including leaders of the Communist Party. Mass pressure forced its repeal in 1936.
A more recent example of public opposition to thought-control legislation and trials is the public support manifested for the defendants in the Quebec “sedition” trials under the Public Order Act, 1970, which was modelled very closely on the old Section 98 of the Criminal Code.
But in recent years there has been a sustained effort by political authorities to enlarge the role of the RCMP in policing dissent, utilizing a sweeping definition of “subversion” so broad that it could encompass any organization or individual holding dissident opinions. A notable attempt in this direction was made by the forerunner of the McDonald commission, the Royal Commission on Security. In their report, published in censored form in 1969, the commissioners wrote:
“Subversive activities need not be instigated by foreign govern-ments or ideological organizations; they need not necessarily be conspiratorial or violent; they are not always illegal.” (page 2)
What is “subversion,” then? The commissioners acknowledged they were unable to devise “any satisfactory simple definition,” but attempted to come up with one anyway: “. . subversive organizations or individuals usually constitute a threat to the fundamental nature of the state or the stability of society in its broadest sense, and make use of means which the majority would regard as undemocratic.” (page 3)
Not illegal, not violent, not foreign-inspired, but “a threat. . . to the stability of society.” That expresses rather precisely the police mentality that lurks behind every attempt to proscribe or otherwise restrict the expression of certain political opinions. And who is to determine what “the majority” regards as “undemocratic”? A government can claim that “the majority” regard a strike as “undemocratic.” The commissioners deliberately avoided the normal expression “make use of illegal means,” in order to substitute the whim of a government for the criteria of the law.
Under cover of this sweeping definition of “subversion,” the commissioners described the “main security threats” to Canada as being posed by “international communism” and by “some elements of the Quebec separatist movement.” (page 5)
The commissioners even tried to combine the two “threats,” red-baiting the movement for Quebec independence.
“… there is no doubt about communist and Trotskyist interest and involvement in the [separatist] movement,” they wrote. “Both groups have established ‘autonomous’ Quebec organizations as somewhat transparent attempts to exploit separatist sentiment; members of both have achieved positions of influence in at least some of the separatist groups and agencies, helped by the often bitter factionalism within the movement itself. For these reasons alone it seems to us essential that the Canadian security authorities should pay close attention to the development of these particular elements of the separatist movement.” (page 8)
The attempt to portray the Communist Party as a supporter of Quebec independence is rather forced. The CP has never supported the Quebec independence movement, but instead champions “Canadian unity.”
As for the Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière (LSO), as the Trotskyist organization in Quebec was then called, it was indeed defending Quebec self-determination — not in a covert, conspiratorial manner, as the commission suggests, but openly, energetically, and enthusiastically.
At that time (1969), members of the LSO and the youth organization in sympathy with it, the Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes (US), were participating in the struggle in Saint-Leonard to establish a single, secular French-only school system, a struggle that is not yet won in Quebec. They were fighting attempts by the Union Nationale government to legislate increased protection for English, the language of privilege in Quebec. They were active in building the student movement: in 1968, they were leading participants in the massive upsurge of student revolt that shook the CEGEPs (junior colleges) throughout Quebec in support of free tuition and jobs.
None of this was illegal. Nor was it undemocratic. On the contrary, the struggles for students’ rights and to defend French-language rights were attempts to deepen democratic rights.
Yet because of its support of these actions, the Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière did receive “close attention” from the police security forces, as recommended by the federal royal commission. In fact, just a year after the commission’s report, federal authorities demonstrated their desire to defend democracy against threats from the LSO by jailing election officials of the LSO’s candidate for the Montreal mayoralty. Arthur Young and Penny Simpson, respectively campaign manager and agent, were held for over a week during the War Measures crisis before being released without charge.
The “separatist movement” and the Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière were not the only “threats . . . to the stability of society” to be singled out by the royal commissioners. The commission also proposed more stringent measures against the employment of homosexuals in the public service, defended continued “security” surveillance of university campuses, and recommended rejection as immigrants of persons who (inter alia) might at some time in the previous ten years have been members of “subversive or revolutionary organizations.” (page 51)
In the name of safeguarding Canada against “subversion” and “revolution,” the commission was prepared to countenance a great deal in the way of secret police activity. It is widely forgotten today, for instance, that the commission recommended police surveillance of the mails “for activities dangerous to the security of the state” — a vague enough pretext. (page 103)
We emphasize: In order to arrive at a pretext for political police spying and disruptive operations, it was necessary for the royal commission to develop a concept of “subversive activities” that went beyond the commission of illegal acts—and that even excused illegalities by the state authorities.
The commission’s definition of “subversion” was never given legislative sanction. But in succeeding years the government went very far in attempts to give it a cover of administrative authority.
The Security Service ‘mandate’: the goal is thought control
In a speech in Parliament on October 28, 1977, Solicitor General Francis Fox described the various legislative steps by which the RCMP Security Service developed its present apparatus and scope of operations.
The speech is remembered mainly because of Fox’s disclosure, inserted almost imperceptibly into his text, of “the alleged offences committed in 1973 and involving property belonging to the Parti Québécois”—that is, that the RCMP had broken into an office and stolen PQ membership lists and other documents.
But the speech merits attention for another reason: it remains to this day the most coherent attempt by the Trudeau government to explain its position that (to paraphrase Barry Goldwater) “illegality in defense of national security is no vice.”
“One of the first steps in the formulation of new guidelines for the security service of the RCMP,” said Fox, “has been the adoption by Parliament in 1974 of a new definition of the expression ‘subversive activities’ that is to be found today in the Protection of Privacy Act which amended certain aspects of the Official Secrets Act.. It was then decided that this definition constituted a solid starting ground from which the role of a good security service could be defined more precisely.”
The Protection of Privacy Act of 1974 (since it legalized wiretapping and similar practices it might more aptly be called the Invasion of Privacy Act) amended the Official Secrets Act to include the following definition of “subversive activity” (Section 16(3)):
“(a) espionage or sabotage;
“(b) foreign intelligence activities directed toward gathering intelligence information relating to Canada;
“(c) activities directed toward accomplishing governmental change within Canada or elsewhere by force or violence or any criminal means;
“(d) activities by a foreign power directed toward actual or potential attack or other hostile acts against Canada; or
“(e) activities of a foreign terrorist group directed toward the commission of terrorist acts in or against Canada.” (emphasis added)
Subsection (c) in particular appears to be aimed at domestic dissent. The wording leaves considerable scope to judicial interpretation of such phrases as “activities directed toward” and “or elsewhere.” That is, the legislation could be used to legally frame up individuals or organizations on the basis of intentions, not specific acts, or to prosecute opponents of dictatorial regimes elsewhere.
But in so far as the legislation in question refers only to explicitly “criminal” acts, it could hardly provide legal justification for surveillance of the Revolutionary Workers League, or of most other organizations that have been victims of the Security Service’s domestic harassment and disruption tactics.
The RWL and its predecessor organizations, for example, have never been indicted or convicted for any violent or criminal activity. The RWL does not propose to accomplish its aims through illegality.
The government apparently felt the parliamentary mandate was insufficient. In a secret order-in-council on March 27, 1975—to the best of our knowledge not revealed publicly until Fox’s speech in October 1977—the federal cabinet “defined the mandate of the security service,” as Fox put it.
This “mandate” went considerably further than any legislation ever submitted to Parliament, let alone the people of Canada and Quebec as a whole. According to Fox, it authorized the RCMP “to discover, monitor, discourage, prevent and thwart the activities of certain individuals or certain groups in Canada and carry out investigations about them when there are reasonable or likely grounds to believe that they are carrying out or do intend to carry out. . . .” The solicitor general then paraphrased the definitions of subversive activities” in the Official Secrets Act, with the following significant addition: “the use and encouragement of the use of force or violence or any other criminal means, the provocation or the exploitation of civil disturbances in order to take part in any of the above-mentioned activities.” (emphasis added)
There are two things in particular to note about the cabinet’s instructions to the Security Service.
One is the addition of the new clause, authorizing police operations against organizations and individuals who, in the police view, “encourage” the use of force, violence, etc., or that “provoke” or “exploit” civil “disturbances.” These terms are so open-ended that they could apply to almost any conceivable form of political or social protest. If the cops smash a picket line, for example, can’t the resulting “civil disturbance” be blamed on the union that erected the pickets? Couldn’t it be argued that in setting up a picket line the union members “encouraged” or “provoked” the resulting disorder? Police thinking of that nature is not unknown, as many union members can testify.
Also to be noted in the cabinet’s instructions is the phrase “discourage, prevent and thwart.” Is this the Trudeau government’s explicit endorsation of “disruption tactics,” which of course were in use long before adoption of the cabinet directives? The cops who carried away all the files of the APLQ and the Quebec Political Prisoners Defense Movement were, after all, simply “preventing and thwarting” these organizations from functioning. We will return to this point later.
The cabinet directive of March 27, 1975 goes to the heart of the present operations of the RCMP Security Service—and for that matter, other forces that collaborate with the RCMP in their “antisubversive” witch-hunts. It gives police virtually carte blanche to carry out their “dirty tricks.” Yet, let it be emphasized, this cabinet directive, which goes considerably further than any parliamentary act in encouraging such activity, was adopted behind the backs of the Canadian people.
Since its adoption, the cabinet’s definition of the SS “mandate” has croppped up in other places. For example, Socialist Voice, the English-language biweekly that reflects the views of the Rev-olutionary Workers League, recently obtained a copy of a secret Immigration Department “manual” designed for departmental in-ternal use. The manual added the new definitions of “subversion” in May 1975 to its “criteria for refusal of immigrants and non-immigrants on security grounds.”
We have gone to some lengths to describe the thinking of the federal government and its agencies on this question, since it is clear that these concepts of “subversion” have been developed precisely to give some cover of “legitimacy” to police action against the Revolutionary Workers League and its predecessor organizations.
Both Prime Minister Trudeau and Solicitor General Fox have on several occasions in recent months singled out “Trotskyists” as worthy subjects for police surveillance. Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry told the provincial legislature in December that the RCMP explicitly described the League for Socialist Action as “subversive” in discussions with his deputy attorney general.
We have been accused, tried, and convicted by the govern-ment—not for any criminal actions, but solely on account of our political opinions, such as our support for Quebec independence.
By labeling us “subversive,” the government and its police agents try to present our members and supporters as opponents of democracy, and advocates of violence and terrorism.
But the government and their police forces know very well that the Revolutionary Workers League is a legal political organization.
We do not advocate terrorism. In fact, we have had occasion—for example, at the time of the October 1970 kidnappings and in the 1972 Munich events—to polemicize strongly against such tactics in the newspapers that reflect our views. The position of our world organization, the Fourth International, on this question is well-established. Advocacy of terrorism is incompatible with membership in the Revolutionary Workers League.
As for the suggestion that we oppose democratic rights, nothing could be further from the truth.
Revolutionary socialists are not only defenders of those democratic rights that already exist. We favor their extension and qualitative enlargement.
The workers state and constitution we advocate will recognize the unrestricted rights of free speech; freedom of movement, assembly, and religion; and a multiparty system and free elections.
The workers government that we are fighting to establish will support complete legal status for all political organizations and parties, including those that oppose socialism and the constitution of the new state, so long as they do not take violent action against the democratically-established laws. In our view, dissolving the capitalist police forces and replacing them with a popular militia under democratic control—a traditional goal of socialism—will safeguard the gains of the socialist revolution far better than “dirty trick” squads can ever protect capitalism.
A more complete exposition of our views on this question can be found in a public statement entitled Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, adopted in May 1977 by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.
What the government is doing with its concept of “subversion” is to attempt to fashion a new category of crimes, crimes of thought and ideas. In this way it empowers its “security” police to define in effect which thoughts are acceptable, and which aren’t.
This attempt must be rejected by all supporters of democratic rights.
Legal or illegal: the case of the disappearing distinction
Much stress has been placed by some critics on whether SS operations of the kind recently exposed were legal or illegal. This commission itself has emphasized that its concern lies mainly with the prevalence of “illegal” actions by the SS.
We contend that by the very nature of political policing, the distinction between “legal” and illegal actions tends to disappear.
As we have seen, the Security Service’s crimes against free speech have no justification in law. Their formal “authority” rests largely on cabinet ukase; it has in the main never been submitted to Parliament, let alone to a democratic consultation of the Canadian people.
Many aspects of SS operations, moreover, remain a closed book. Even the parliamentary committee charged with overseeing the RCMP is denied information on the SS budget.
What about the specific actions of the Security Service? Is it possible to establish a limited authority for the SS that somehow does not infringe on democratic rights?
First, let us note that those responsible for formulating and defending the SS policy show no such insistence that the RCMP remain within the limits of legality. In urging that the Security Service be beefed up, the 1969 royal commission stated: “A security service will inevitably be involved in actions that may contravene the spirit if not the letter of the law, and with clandestine and other activities which may sometimes seem to infringe on individuals’ rights. . . .” (page 21, emphasis added)
In his statement last October announcing the RCMP theft of Parti Québécois property, Solicitor General Fox cited these remarks, and stressed that (as he put it) “the royal commission did not say that a security service must never be involved in any actions ‘that may contravene the spirit if not the letter of the law.’ “
Fox described a “dilemma” rooted in the very nature of political police activity. “At precisely what point,” he asked Parliament, “should a security service refrain from taking action that it thinks important to meet its responsibility for national security in order to avoid any possibility of contravention of even the letter of the law?”
The solicitor general even suggested that this “dilemma” should give the public cause to sympathize with the SS’s action in breaking into the PQ files. It was done, you see, in the interests of “national security.”
Thus, in the opinion of the minister directly responsible for the RCMP, raison d’état — “national security” — could justify the commission of patently illegal actions by the police sworn to uphold this country’s laws. To this day, Fox refuses to admit that the PQ break-in was necessarily “illegal.”
Prime Minister Trudeau has, if anything, gone further. At a news conference last October 28 the prime minister carried the doctrine of raison d’etat to its logical limits. If the police have to break the law in pursuing those whom they consider subversives, the prime minister said, “There is a very simple thing to do. It is to make such types of surveillance permissible by the RCMP or by whatever security agency you have and this is what we have asked of the McDonald Commission . . . to advise the Government on. . .”
These gentlemen at least have the merit of frankness. We ask only one thing: that if they are to defend lawbreaking by the police, and to urge the legalization of what is presently illegal, they should have the elementary decency to stop posing as defenders of democracy and “law and order” and stop slandering their victims as advocates of force and violence.
Let us be clear: in our view, the RCMP Security Service is guilty of crimes, enormous crimes against Canadian laws and the democratic rights of Canadians and Québécois. Those responsible for these crimes should be brought to justice, and punished with the full rigor of the law.
But a deeper issue is at stake. We agree with the prime minister and the solicitor general: by its very nature police surveillance of political dissent or potential dissent, and attempts to “discourage, prevent and thwart” the expression of dissent, will inevitably involve law-breaking by the police—at least, in any capitalist democracy that still claims adherence to the “rule of law.” The difference is that we oppose such surveillance and disruption of free speech, while the government supports and encourages it.
Forged communiques, break-ins, mail openings, theft, black-mail—that is what the prime minister is asking this commission to ratify.
Dissent and subversion: how real is the difference?
Some critics of RCMP practices have tried to steer a “middle course,” urging that a distinction be drawn between dissent and subversion. Worried that police practices increasingly infringe on the right of dissent, they argue for a narrower definition of “subversion,” and seek official support for broadening the bounds of “legitimate” dissent—presumably dissent that does not somehow threaten the “foundations of the state” or the “stability of society,” to use the words of the 1969 royal commission (abridged) report.
The New Democratic Party leadership in particular has leaned heavily on that kind of argumentation. This is not a new argument with the NDP. It need only be recalled that one of the three members of the Royal Commission on Security was M.J. Coldwell, a former CCF-NDP leader. Coldwell apparently subscribed entirely to the reactionary thought-control concepts of the commission’s report, if he wasn’t himself their direct author. The government naturally attached considerable value to his support.
In reality, it is not possible to make a meaningful distinction between dissent and subversion.
It is clear from the government’s definition that “subversion” implies outlawing the expression of some forms of dissent. To attempt to distinguish subversion and dissent is to accept the criminalization of some dissent.
Once the legitimacy of thought control activity has been adopted and ratified, the logic of raison d’etat—the “interests of national security,” as it is often called in Canada—takes over. Police actions otherwise condemned as illegal can become “legal,” at least in the minds of their perpetrators. (It is no accident that the cops involved in the APLQ break-in, testifying before the Keable inquiry, were unclear about the legality of their actions. The one thing they all agreed on was that they were acting in the interests of “national security.” That, for them, was sufficient.)
Trudeau, one of the more conscious representatives of his social class, knows this very well. Hence his oft-stated doctrine of “ministerial ignorance.” He knows that police political spying inevitably involves lawbreaking. His position that he does not want to know the details of such activities might more aptly be termed a doctrine of ministerial complicity. Those who formulate the policy are responsible for the results.
The police use their “antisubversive” mandate to intervene in all areas of actual or potential opposition to government policies.
A case in point is the RCMP’s attempts to justify its “surveillance” of the Parti Québécois and the New Democratic Party.
In a typical statement, Solicitor General Fox told Parliament October 31, 1977: “. . . if by any chance there are people in the Parti Québécois or any other political party with Maoist, Trotskyist or other political tendencies, it would obviously be advisable for the security services to keep an eye on such groups to serve the best interests of both the Canadian and Quebec governments.”
Fox’s allusion to “Trotskyists” in the PQ is absurd, of course. While we support Quebec’s independence, we are opponents of the PQ, as anyone acquainted with our views knows. We don’t join the PQ, and we urge the formation of a workers party based on the unions in order to fight this capitalist party.
Fox’s shabby pretext that the PQ must be spied on because of the existence of Trotskyists is no more convincing than the 1969 royal commission’s suggestion that the LSO had to be investigated because it supported Quebec separatism.
Likewise with respect to the New Democratic Party. The RCMP initially attempted to excuse its alleged three-year investigation of the NDP with the claim that it was only investigating the left-wing “Waffle” caucus. Since that sounded unconvincing to many, it then argued that it was investigating the Waffle caucus because of the presence in it of Trotskyists. The truth is, the RCMP was investigating the NDP, and in doing so it violated the democratic rights of members of the NDP. The state has no business intervening in the internal affairs of the NDP or of any political grouping. We are appalled that NDP leaders have failed to see this point and to protest the RCMP’s intervention in the strongest possible terms.
These police methods recall the salami tactic: cutting off the opposition slice by slice. In Quebec it began as surveillance of the “FLQ”; but the disruptive tactics soon were directed against the whole spectrum of the nationalist movement. The War Measures Act was invoked, we were told, to stop “an apprehended insurrection.” By the “FLQ”? Within days a Liberal cabinet minister Jean Marchand was denouncing the trade union-sponsored Front d’Action Politique, the main opposition to Mayor Drapeau’s party in the Montreal elections, as “a front for the FLQ.”
An attack on one quickly becomes an attack on all. That is why, very early in the history of the radical movement, the principle was established that whatever their political views, all victims of police repression must be defended.
Who is to draw the line? Who is to determine what is a “legitimate” target for police spying, and what is not? How radical must you be before you are “subversive”?
RCMP the real subversives
The police code-word for political spying is “surveillance”—as if it were confined to information-gathering. Trudeau has encouraged this misconception with his frequent statements to the effect that there is nothing wrong with the police keeping files on the views and activities of millions of Canadians.
But files are compiled to be used—as they were under the War Measures in October 1970, when hundreds of innocent persons were arrested and held for days or weeks, and thousands of homes were raided. In the end, there were few indictments; only a handful of persons were convicted of anything. Yet thousands suffered: their reputations were harmed, many lost their jobs—all because the police had files on them as persons to be watched because of their views or associations.
Will we see a repetition of this experience — or something worse? Only two weeks ago Trudeau threatened to again invoke the War Measures Act. Isn’t it his government that is actually threatening the use of force, against the people of Quebec?
When the federal cabinet authorized the RCMP to “discourage, prevent and thwart” the activities of individuals and organizations, it not only gave the green light to much more than “information gathering,” it made clear that police disruptive tactics enjoy the support of the highest levels of government. What those tactics can involve was indicated by the APLQ break-in. Despite the cops’ initial claims that they were trying to foil terrorist actions, the real purpose of the operation was to smash the news agency and the political prisoners’ defense committee that shared the building with the APLQ. As Capt. Roger Cormier of the Montreal police described it, in testimony before the Keable commission: “We wanted to prevent them from functioning. . . . It was in our interest to destroy the two movements.”
That’s why documents taken in the break-in were not returned but were later destroyed, police say. The material included all the organizations’ files, contact lists, subscribers lists, and addresses.
The Revolutionary Workers League and its predecessor organizations have also been the target of police “disruption tactics.” The following small sample of incidents involving our members provides further evidence of the kinds of methods employed systematically by the police against an organization like ours—which, we repeat, has never been indicted or convicted for criminal activity.
1. Katie Curtin is a graduate student in Montreal and author of the book Women in China. Curtin was fired from a job at the 1976 Olympics; her employer said security officials had called her a “risk to national security.”
Curtin took her case to the Commission des Droits de la Personne, seeking damages for loss of her summer earnings. In testimony before the commisssion RCMP officers confirmed she had been fired on the basis of RCMP files. But when the commission requested the files, Solicitor General Fox intervened with an affidavit under Section 41(2) of the Federal Court Act, claiming absolute immunity from disclosure on grounds of “national security.”
Thus the RCMP, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, have convicted Katie Curtin as a “risk to national security,” deprived her of her job, and then denied her any means of seeing the evidence or defending herself — on the grounds of “national security.” Catch 22.
Curtin is not alone in her dilemma. Other members of the Revolutionary Workers League, including members of the former Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire, similarly lost their Olympics jobs on the basis of police political files; police admit that at least 20 and perhaps as many as 150 persons suffered a similar fate.
2. Will Offley, a member of the RWL in Vancouver, came to Canada in the late 1960s from the United States. A draft evader, he renounced his U.S. citizenship in order to demonstrate his opposition to the war in Vietnam. Offley, who later joined the League for Socialist Action, applied for Canadian citizenship and was turned down without explanation.
In 1975 John Rodriguez, MP, asked the government on behalf of Offley: “As of March 1973, was the League for Socialist Action designated as a subversive organization?”
The Hon. Mitchell Sharp, president of the privy council, issued a written reply, published in Hansard November 5, 1975, at page 8883. Sharp said that “no minister, agency, or level of government declares organizations subversive.” The minister misled the House.
Immigration department internal guidelines recently brought to light show that at the time Sharp spoke, the LSA was indeed listed as a “communist controlled organization,” and thus “subversive” according to the government’s criteria.
As in the case of Katie Curtin, the blacklist, presumably drawn up by the RCMP, is secret; neither the LSA nor Offley (who could reasonably presume that his membership in the LSA was the cause of his refusal of citizenship) had any means of confronting their accusers and answering the charge.
Offley has since obtained his citizenship, but only by dint of a long, difficult campaign.
3. In April 1974 three trade-union activists were fired at Flyer Industries, a Manitoba government-owned corporation. Two of the three persons fired were active socialists; one was a member of the Revolutionary Marxist Group, a predecessor of the RWL. On November 3, 1977 Siegfried Maurmann, a former president of Flyer Industries, admitted to the press that the RCMP had been called into the plant offices to check a list of company employees for suspected “subversives.” Maurmann said that two of the three men fired “had earlier been named by the RCMP as having Marxist persuasions.” Howard Pawley, a former attorney general of the province, has confirmed to the press that the RCMP was involved in the firing of these militants.
As a petition signed by leaders of the labor movement and the NDP in Manitoba states: “The nature of the RCMP-Flyer management collaboration in 1974 suggests a systematic and widespread surveillance by the security branch [of the RCMP] against politically dissident groups and individuals in the unions and on the left. It also suggests that the RCMP has acted in the service of corporate management to deprive workers of their jobs and of their democratic rights.”
Before unions became widespread, employers circulated blacklists among themselves in order to weed out militant workers from their factories. By informing bosses of their employees’ political affiliations, isn’t the RCMP reviving these infamous tactics?
4. Brenda Dineen, LSA candidate for mayor of Winnipeg in 1974, ran second, receiving more than 6,000 votes. Shortly after the election a member of the Winnipeg Police Department began undercover surveillance of the LSA. Christie Brian Rush, alias “Chris Mathieson,” expressed interest in joining the LSA. He attended its public activities and at one point was observed copying down names from the organization’s mailing list. It was later discovered that he was a member of the police department.
Confronted by this evidence, Deputy Mayor Bernard Wolfe defended police infiltration tactics. “This type of activity,” he told the press, “can determine what goes on that is to the disadvantage of the established governments.”
It is not known if the RCMP was involved in this action by the Winnipeg police: but there is no reason to think they would have opposed it. It is well known that the SS works in close collaboration with local police “red squads,” often assigning “tactical operations” to them.
5. In April 1971, a few months after the War Measures crisis, Montreal police called John Lejderman, a laboratory technician and member of the LSO and the Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes, into the office of the company where he worked and accused him in front of his boss of being a member of the FLQ, then an illegal organization. No charges were laid. When Lejderman protested this smear attack, he was assured by both the Montreal police department and the Quebec Justice ministry that there was nothing irregular in such police conduct.
A few days after his protest to Quebec Justice Minister Jérôme Choquette, police raided Lejderman’s home with a search warrant alleging possession of “writings, pamphlets, books, etc., which advocate rebellion against the government of Canada relative to Section 60 of the Criminal Code.” They carried away personal property, including a passport and similar seditious documents, and refused to allow any of the property to be listed by Lejderman or his companion. When Lejderman protested these procedures, he was assaulted by a detective, taken to a police station, and detained in a cell for two hours. Again, no charges were laid.
When police returned Lejderman’s belongings in July 1971, they inadvertently included the results of their search. A list of more than 60 names culled from Lejderman’s papers and letters was accompanied with notes like: “Sheet with names and telephones to be checked with Bell Tel.,” and “Sheet for information on the Jeunes Socialistes.” (Rapport général de la police de Montréal no. 906-138, May 7, 1971)
During this period, which followed the emergency measures enacted in October 1970, other members of the LSO and LJS were arrested on various occasions and held by police for up to 12 hours without charge. They were illegally interrogated and photographed. While holding Thérèse Faubert in custody, police took her keys, entered her apartment, and removed several items including minutes of LJS membership meetings.
6. In 1972-73, political differences in the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière gave rise to the formation of several organized tendency formations, or caucuses. While the internal political debate was proceeding, many members in branches in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal received anonymous letters through the mails purporting to be sent from members of one or another minority tendency, and attacking various leaders of the LSA/LSO.
The league’s executive secretary, John Riddell, was the target of an extensive campaign of letters containing various attempts to discredit him. For example, in a letter found on delegates’ chairs at the Young Socialists’ convention in December 1972, reference was made to the fact that Riddell had “sought psychiatric aid.”
Other letters, postmarked in Toronto, accused leaders of the LSA of insufficiently opposing the views of one tendency in the Fourth International, which at that time was also going through an intense political debate.
Still other letters, in French, attempted to stir up animosity between English and French speaking members in Montreal. When one such letter, postmarked in Montreal in August 1972, failed to get any response, it was followed by another in late September 1972 that attempted a more subtle line of attack using the same theme.
Members took it for granted that the police were involved. This suspicion has now been virtually confirmed by recent disclosures of RCMP attempts during this same period to provoke dissension in Quebec nationalist circles through circulation of forged “FLQ” communiques. In announcing the latter, has the federal solicitor general really “cleared the slate” of RCMP illegalities, as he alleges?
7. Between August 20 and August 25, 1971, while the LSA/LSO and Young Socialists were holding a widely publicized socialist activists’ conference at the University of Waterloo, the headquarters of the LSA in Toronto was broken into; membership lists and political files were stolen. Money was left untouched. The operation had all the earmarks of a police operation.
That is only a small sampling of the kind of harassment members of our organization have been subjected to by the RCMP and related security forces. There are literally dozens of similar incidents we could cite, covering just the last ten years.
In no case have our members been convicted of any criminal offense associated with these incidents. The police aim has clearly been to intimidate members and disrupt the functioning of the organization. Many members have been damaged materially and intimidated as a result of this harassment.
These police activities continue to this day. Since the founding convention of the Revolutionary Workers League in August 1977, members of our organization in several cities have been approached by the RCMP and asked to inform on the RWL.
Persons acquainted with our organization who are not members have told us that when they applied for citizenship, for example, they were extensively questioned by the RCMP about the RWL or its predecessor organizations.
Such police tactics, to say the least, are not calculated to help us win new members and supporters.
That is why we say it is not us but the RCMP—and its “political masters” in the government—who are the real subversives in this country. They are subverting our democratic rights, and the rights of the Canadian and Québécois people.
Is the RCMP ‘out of control’?
Although they may often violate “the spirit if not the letter of the law,” these current police practices are sanctioned at the highest levels of government. Moreover, they are based on a long tradition of police activity in this country. Above all, they are rooted in the historical development of Canadian capitalism, and in the evolution of the Canadian state into a modern imperialist power.
The Royal North West Mounted Police, the RCMP’s forerunner, was established originally in order to suppress the Native and Metis peoples in Western Canada — to make the West white and English-speaking. Its early recruits won their spurs by breaking strikes among the superexploited workers, many of them Chinese immigrants, building the Canadian Pacific Railway. Later, the force was used to round up opponents of Canada’s involvement in imperialist wars — the Boer war, and the first and second World Wars — especially in Quebec.
The RCMP played an important role in suppressing the Winnipeg General Strike and in organizing the anti-sedition witch-hunts that followed that strike and the post-World War I labor upsurge. Becoming the main political police force after the First World War, the RCMP made a vocation of harassing members of the Communist Party, other radicals in the labor movement, immigrants, and Native people.
In recent years it has placed increased emphasis on combatting the nationalist movement in Quebec. It is under the aegis of Ottawa’s “antiseparatist” campaign that the RCMP has grown to the dimensions we know today. And with it have grown the secret operations of the Security Service, with its reported staff of 1,900 officers.
There is nothing qualitatively new about the recent actions of the Security Service. They are not aberrations. The RCMP is not “out of control” of the government. SS activities flow from the very nature and function of the RCMP as a repressive force.
What is new, however, is the political context of the current revelations.
Over the years, Canada’s rulers have gone to great pains to cultivate a favorable public image of “the Mounties.” For labor militants, Native peoples, and socialists, the contrast between the myth and reality was always too great to be credible. But critics of the RCMP usually found it difficult to get a hearing, especially in the extended period of capitalist expansion and Cold War that followed World War II.
What touched off the current rush of revelations and criticism concerning the RCMP was, above all else, the Parti Québécois election victory, the enormous impetus it has given to the indepen-dentist movement in Quebec, and the resulting rise in tensions within the Canadian state apparatus as a whole.
The crisis of “national unity” necessarily entailed a crisis for the police agency that enforced that “unity”—especially since official propaganda has long portrayed the Mountie on his horse as a symbol of Canada itself! Today, hundreds of thousands of “Canadians” want to leave Canada and have their own country, Quebec; millions more seriously question the existing constitutional arrangements. They are no longer prepared to tolerate the undemocratic agencies and practices that stand in the way of their national self-determination. Moreover, in both Quebec and English Canada, more people than ever before question that the capitalist system is capable of solving the pressing social problems confronting them. They no longer accept the rationale for political police spying.
The crisis of the RCMP is essentially a political crisis, bound up with the institutional crisis wracking the entire Canadian state. And it is another demonstration of the increasing incompatibility between democratic rights and the needs of monopoly capitalism.
The ruling class faces a major problem: just when they most need to beef up their secret police and other specialized agencies of repression, there is more and more political opposition to such measures.
This commission has been given the task of justifying a still wider political role for the police. We will not speculate on its probable success.
But one thing is clear: efforts by the government to justify police “dirty tricks” and repression against the left by invoking a “terrorist” threat simply will not wash.
It may have worked in 1970; Ottawa was able to take advantage of the confusion caused by a couple of kidnappings. But subsequent events—such as the “sedition” trial of labor leader Michel Chartrand—demonstrated that the real purpose of the mass arrests and troop movements had little to do with catching the kidnappers. And there are still a great many unanswered questions about the government’s role in the October crisis.
As indicated by his New Year’s threat to use the War Measures, Trudeau hopes to play this card again. In the last analysis, he hasn’t much choice: as long as he is committed to upholding Canadian “unity” he cannot renounce the use of force. But the public excuses for repression of this kind are wearing thin.
An example is the explanation proferred in defense of the Parti Québécois break-in. Trudeau told a news conference that “you have to put yourself in the context of the times,” and cited the need to “track down the kidnappers and assassins. . . .” Fox elaborated in his report to Parliament: “It was authorized and carried out in the absolute conviction that its sole object was to promote the security of Canada given the political and social climate prevailing in 1973.”
But what was the “political and social climate” at the time of the October 1972 APLQ break-in and the January 1973 PQ break-in? During the previous year former “FLQ” leaders like Pierre Vallieres (and, as we noted, Jacques Cosette-Trudel) had renounced terrorism publicly. Actions attributed to the “FLQ” were at an all-time low. No one was doing any kidnapping, unless it was the police who sequestered radicals in motels, roughing them up to induce them to become informers. “FLQ” communiques were being written by the RCMP.
Meanwhile, bitter labor struggles like the La Presse strike had aroused support for radical union manifestos; and in the spring of 1972 Quebec had experienced a massive upsurge of the labor movement in protest against the jailing of the leaders of the three main union federations. The mass movement had recovered from the shock and disorientation produced by the War Measures; and it was precisely this revival of mass action that spelled an end to isolated terrorist actions.
The RCMP knows very well that it is this kind of mass movement that poses the real threat to the established order, and not the isolated actions of small terrorist-oriented groupings.
How can democratic rights be defended?
Democratic rights are not threatened by small terrorist groupings, whether they call themselves the “FLQ” or whatever. Nor are democratic rights threatened by the mass organizations the working people have forged in defense of their economic and political interests.
But the democratic rights of the people of English Canada and Quebec are threatened, and are being undermined, by the political police of the RCMP Security Service. And behind the SS stands the political authority of the Trudeau government, which committed the biggest act of political terrorism in the history of Canada when it invoked the War Measures Act in 1970.
That is why we say:
- The Security Service should be abolished.
- Its files should be opened and the dossiers turned over to the victims, their rightful owners.
- Victims of “dirty tricks” squads should be compensated for the damages they have suffered.
- All police surveillance, harassment, and disruption of the labor movement, the Quebec nationalist movement, Native peoples, and political parties should be ended. Stop the policing of political dissent!
The Revolutionary Workers League believes that police political spying will not end until capitalist rule itself is ended.
The capitalists have too much to hide, too much to fear, to dispense with this vital tool of their system.
Not only do capitalist governments constantly whittle away at democratic rights—but, as the War Measures showed, they are quite prepared to sweep those rights aside with the stroke of a ministerial pen.
Working people cannot rely on the government, its courts, and its laws to defend their rights. The only guarantee of those rights is their collective strength and vigilance, and readiness to fight in their own defense.
 See “Proscribing Unlawful Associations: The Swift Rise and Agonizing Demise of Section 98,” by Richard Fidler, http://www.socialisthistory.ca/Docs/History/Fidler-Section%2098.pdf.
 This draft resolution was adopted, following extensive debate and amendment, by the 12th World Congress of the Fourth International in 1985. See “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Socialist Democracy,” International Viewpoint.