An op-ed article in the January 9 edition of the Montréal daily Le Devoir reminds readers of a federal police action 40 years ago to the day that was part of a larger campaign of illegal police activity directed against the Quebec independence movement during the 1970s.
My free translation of Christian Gagnon’s piece, below, is followed by reproduction of an article I wrote in 1978 (!) as an introduction to a book on police “security” operations directed against the Canadian left, the labour movement and Quebec nationalists as well as other opponents of the federal government and state, real and imagined, during those years. RCMP: The Real Subversives (Vanguard Publications, 1978) included the text of a brief submitted to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP (the McDonald Commission) by the Revolutionary Workers League/Ligue ouvrière révolutionnaire, a group to which I then belonged, as well as a number of articles documenting incidents of police harassment of political dissidents.
My 1978 article offers an overview of the political context of these events and the public controversy that arose in the wake of revelations of the scope of these illegal police activities at the time. The argument may appear a bit overwrought in places, as in the unilateral reduction of the “rule of law” to little more than laws and institutions defending capitalist property rights. A more subtle analysis might point to the state as not just an institution of class rule but a terrain of class and national struggle, in which non-capitalist forces can sometimes through their struggles win legislative and even legal reforms that can strengthen their cause. Where they manage to achieve governmental power, these forces are then much more favourably placed to challenge and ultimately dismantle the institutions of capitalist class rule.
However, the article is, I think, a useful reminder and analysis of some of the key measures adopted by Canada’s rulers in the early years of what later became known as the neoliberal assault on working people.
In the wake of the McDonald Commission report, the Security Service was removed from the RCMP and its functions turned over to a new agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. As the treatment of security certificate detainees and other victims of today’s “war on terror” demonstrates, the CSIS continues many of the practices pioneered by the RCMP Security Service. No doubt the young aboriginal activists of the inspiring Idle No More movement are among their contemporary targets.
– Richard Fidler
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Forty years after Canada’s Watergate
by Christian Gagnon, Vice-President of the Ligue d’action nationale, Le Devoir, January 9, 2012
Throughout the last year the Canadian government seemed to have an irrepressible passion for commemorations. They sang praises to Queen Elizabeth II on the 60th anniversary of her coronation, although the Québécois have suffered much from the effects of the British monarchy during their history. The 200th anniversary of the war of 1812, an episode that is considered insignificant by most historians, they glorified to excess. They are even preparing to mark, in 2014, the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, and, in 2015, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and grave-digger of the Francophones in Western Canada. But what, then, is Ottawa setting aside for us for 2013?
An initial possibility — it seems to me today — is that the federal government could this year serve up another propaganda concert demonstrating the priceless benefits of our membership in the “bestest country in the world.” However, it is unlikely that Ottawa will seize this opportunity. It was 40 years ago to this day that Operation Ham was successfully carried out: the theft by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of the membership list of the Parti québécois, still a quite new party. No fewer than 44 officers of Section G (the RCMP anti-separatism squad) prepared this operation, an illegal one but authorized by the highest political authorities. On January 9, 1973, just after midnight, three officers broke into the premises of Messageries dynamiques, then located at 9820 rue Jeanne-Mance in Montréal. After a lengthy search, they tracked down the computer tapes containing the list of members of the Parti québécois, the objective of their mission.
The reels were then taken by car to MICR Systems, a data processing company in the Westmount Square building. Computer experts spent more than three hours decoding the tapes and copying the PQ’s membership list. An RCMP officer then returned to Messageries dynamiques to put the reels back in place. The RCMP team left the premises at 5:15 a.m. “Compared with that, Watergate was really an amateur job,” wrote reporter Richard Cléroux, author of Pleins feux sur les services secrets canadiens (Éditions de l’Homme, 1993).
The Keable and McDonald commissions of inquiry would inform us later that for several years after the October Crisis of 1970, the RCMP in Quebec committed bomb attacks, arson, kidnappings, and dynamite thefts and issued fake FLQ communiqués in order to artificially maintain an atmosphere of fear and insecurity harmful to the independence movement.
And this year, 2013, with a PQ government in office, it is the son of the prime minister who gave the RCMP carte blanche to commit these crimes who is the favourite in the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Which just shows that democracies like the ones Gérard Depardieu likes are favoured by many Canadians.
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Canada’s Political Police at Work
The cover-up unravels
It all began as if by accident. A junior RCMP officer, Cpl. Robert Samson, on trial in Montreal in March 1976 in connection with a mysterious bombing incident, blurted out that he “had done worse things.” Pressed for details, Samson mentioned a 1972 break-in at the offices of the Agence de Presse Libre du Québec.
A sensational disclosure. The burglary in October 1972 had incapacitated the APLQ, a radical news agency and information source for the Quebec left. The burglars had taken subscribers’ lists, bank records, minutes, addressograph plates, and all the administrative and news clippings files, including 200 files on community organizations and unions. Also raided were co-tenants of the building, the Movement for the Defense of Quebec Political Prisoners and a household moving co-op.
Police involvement had been widely suspected at the time. But Quebec provincial police denied any participation; a Montreal police investigation lapsed allegedly for lack of leads; and Ottawa officials failed to answer a registered letter from the APLQ charging RCMP complicity in the raid.
As a result of Samson’s revelations, senior officers of the three police forces were brought to trial, in May 1977. But no further details emerged on what had happened. Following secret testimony the cops were given “unconditional discharges,” and the judge praised their “noble motives.”
The APLQ affair raised some intriguing questions.
- Had the cops been charged with breaking and entering, they could have been compelled to testify publicly about the break-in. Why were they allowed to plead guilty on a minor charge of failing to obtain a search warrant?
- The cops claimed the APLQ break-in had helped frustrate terrorist plans to carry out kidnappings, hijackings, and assassinations. But no evidence was produced to confirm these claims. No arrests were made, no charges laid.
- Were top federal officials, including the solicitor general, really unaware of the RCMP’s involvement, as they claimed? Why was Donald Cobb, the RCMP officer who authorized the break-in, promoted shortly afterward, becoming executive assistant to the deputy solicitor general? And why was Cobb assigned to prepare the official report on the break-in, following Samson’s disclosure?
- Federal Solicitor General Francis Fox rejected calls for a public inquiry, insisting the police break-in at the APLQ was an “isolated and exceptional” act. But only months earlier, in January 1977, opposition MPs had revealed the existence of a secret “enemies” blacklist of civil servants circulating among members of the Trudeau cabinet. The list appeared to be compiled from material stolen in December 1970 during a suspicious break-in and fire at the Toronto offices of Praxis Corporation, a research organization helping to organize welfare rights groups. The RCMP, while disclaiming involvement in the theft, admitted it had obtained the stolen material and transmitted it to then Solicitor General Jean-Pierre Goyer.
- Were there other secret blacklists making the rounds? What methods were used to compile them?
In November 1976, RCMP officers had told a Quebec Human Rights Commission inquiry into the firing of radicals at the Olympics that the force kept political files in Ottawa on hundreds of thousands of Canadians suspected of holding dissident views. But the federal solicitor general refused to release information on these files, saying that disclosure would compromise “sources of information, methods of collecting information, the personnel involved in these investigations, as well as the extent and scope of these investigations....”
What was going on?
In the face of mounting public debate over these issues, and the clear evidence of a cover-up by the police, the courts, and the federal government, the newly-elected Parti Québécois government came under strong pressure to probe further.
The Quebec Justice ministry had initially shown little readiness to press the issue. Its prosecutor agreed to allow the three cops indicted in the APLQ break-in to plead guilty on the lesser charge, and supported defense lawyers’ claims that the APLQ break-in was intended to counter “international terrorism.” The PQ government failed to appeal the unconditional discharge ruling as it had every right to do. And it failed to lay charges against other police implicated in the break-in.
However, the PQ also sensed an opportunity to embarrass Ottawa, and to build support for its demand that some aspects of RCMP policing in Quebec be turned over to the Quebec government. In mid-June it appointed a one-man commission to investigate the APLQ break-in. The mandate of commissioner Jean Keable was later extended to cover other illegal actions of the RCMP.
The fat was in the fire. Faced with a Quebec inquiry it could not directly control, the Trudeau government needed a smoke-screen. Three weeks after Keable’s appointment, Ottawa established its own inquiry, the McDonald commission.
The mandate of each commission was formulated with a view to restricting and controlling disclosures of police activities. The Keable inquiry was limited to specified incidents that the PQ government had an interest in exposing. The McDonald inquiry’s mandate was broader, but emphasized that its purpose was to propose means of strengthening “security” procedures and policies. Each inquiry was guaranteed to reflect the views of the government that appointed it: Keable is a Parti Québécois member; the McDonald commissioners all have well-established Liberal ties.
Disruption ... ‘from time immemorable’
But these precautions could not stem the flow of disclosures of Mountie crimes that began in the summer of 1977. Fearing their heads would roll, individual members of the RCMP security service talked to the press. Yes, they said, they had broken the law, many times, in many ways, but they had only acted under orders from above.
Revelations of these activities began to mushroom October 28, 1977, when Solicitor General Francis Fox told Parliament that the RCMP had staged a break-in in 1973 to steal Parti Québécois membership lists and financial records. Details on the operation were later revealed in police testimony before the Keable and McDonald commissions.
As each disclosure fed further disclosures, it became clear beyond doubt that Opération Bricole (Odd Job), the police code name for the APLQ burglary, was only one such operation among many.
On November 13, 1977, Fox admitted what was now obvious: “Going through the files, it is very clear that these operations — break-ins and mail diversion and opening — have been going on from almost time immemorable [sic] within the force.”
The chronology beginning on page 21 [of the book] reconstructs a partial history of police crimes now revealed to have occurred over the last eight years. It points to the existence of a massive conspiracy against the democratic rights of Canadians and Québécois, formulated at the top levels of government.
Under exotic code names like Cathedral, Cobra, Vampire, and Puma, an extensive apparatus of police and military forces has carried out surveillance, disruption, and sabotage against opponents, or potential opponents, of government policies. Masterminding the whole campaign has been the RCMP security service. The SS maintains close liaison with provincial and municipal “intelligence” forces; and its central data bank in Ottawa contains copies of political files compiled by other levels of police.
As the chronology indicates, Quebec has been a major arena for these political police activities. Targets include nationalist organizations and parties, unions (especially in the public sector), rank-and-file citizens groups, radical publishing houses and organizations, journalists, student organizations, immigrant rights groups, the women’s movement, and civil liberties groups.
Testifying before the Keable inquiry in October 1977, police captain Roger Cormier of the Montreal police antiterrorist squad said his force had no fewer than “250 to 350 movements” under surveillance — using spies, infiltration, wiretaps, and search techniques.
Extensive political policing is carried on in English Canada, too. Reported victims include unions, the New Democratic Party, the National Farmers Union, Native groups, and immigrant and student organizations.
In the case of the NDP, known police tactics have ranged from keeping a file on the personal life of federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent to conducting an intensive investigation of the Ontario NDP in the early 1970s.
Publicity surrounding these revelations has focused on the various police techniques — the burglaries, break-ins, mail tampering, wiretapping, acts of arson, and frame-up attempts. Some of the most sensational disclosures have concerned the activities of the RCMP’s secret “dirty tricks” squads. One such grouping, G-4, described to the Keable inquiry by RCMP Sgt. Claude Brodeur, stole dynamite, carried out break-ins, and even burned down a barn allegedly to prevent a meeting between members of the so-called Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ) and the U.S. Black Panthers.
Other “dirty tricks” include the exploitation of what Brodeur called “character weaknesses” to intimidate activists and in some cases to blackmail them to become informers. An RCMP document dated June 11, 1971, released to the McDonald commission, outlined methods of “disruption, coercion and compromise” to be used for “source development” — that is, the recruitment of informers. These “disruptive tactics,” it says, should include “making use of sophisticated and well-researched plans built around existing situations such as power struggles, love affairs, fraudulent use of funds, information on drug abuse, etc. to cause dissension and splintering of the separatist/terrorist groups.”
Disruptive tactics can also include outright provocation, designed to get the target group or individuals to commit illegal actions that would expose them to criminal prosecution if not destruction.
Much less attention has been paid to the impact of these police practices on the lives of the victims.
The brief submitted to the McDonald commission by the Revolutionary Workers League, published in this book, documents some of the ways in which revolutionary socialists in English Canada and Quebec have been harassed by the political police. The incidents described are typical of the experiences of many other socialists and political dissidents of widely varying views and affiliations in both nations.
The RWL brief also replies to some of the main arguments the police and their defenders use to justify these practices.
Articles following the brief illustrate techniques used by the political police — from infiltration and provocation of Black, Native, and immigrant organizations, to inciting right-wing racist thugs to attack radicals and minority ethnic groups.
Behind police crimes — the crisis of the Canadian state
Samson’s disclosure of the APLQ break-in may have been accidental. But it is no accident that the RCMP’s political role is coming under intense scrutiny at this time. The Canadian ruling class today confronts the worst economic situation since the 1930s, and its most serious political crisis since Confederation. Its response to both challenges entails increased repression, including stepped-up political policing. However, the same conditions also stimulate opposition to government policies and undermine public tolerance of repression.
The 1974-75 international economic slump signalled the definitive end of the postwar capitalist boom. It opened a new period of relative stagnation, in which upturns would be fewer and more shallow, downturns longer and deeper.
Declining profit levels and increasing international competition are driving Canadian capitalists to step up their attacks on workers’ incomes, living standards — and democratic rights.
The turn to wage controls in the fall of 1975 was the most dramatic evidence of the shift in ruling-class strategy. Other aspects of the antilabor offensive are the cutbacks in education and social services, anti-union legislation, restrictions on immigration, and attacks on Quebec’s attempts to defend the French language.
Controls have appreciably lowered real wage levels. But there has been no marked improvement in Canada’s economic standing. All signs point to a continued drive against labor by business and government.
There is the beginning of an important social polarization in Canada. Its first signs were in the struggle against wage controls, which reached its high point with the massive cross-country strike and demonstrations on October 14, 1976. Today labor is beginning to mobilize against the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression.
The RCMP revelations have indicated the extent of police interest in organized labor. Public sector unions, major targets of the antilabor drive, have been especially singled out for surveillance and disruption. There is every reason to expect more of this activity in the future, as class polarization and the accompanying breakdown of social consensus make it increasingly difficult for the capitalists to rule through “normal,” “democratic” means.
The biggest challenge facing Canada’s rulers, however, is the Quebec nationalist upsurge and the challenge it poses to the continued existence of the Canadian state. In recent years, and especially since the victory of the Parti Québécois in November 1976, they have been preoccupied by the prospect that Quebec might leave Confederation. They have no intention of conceding Quebec’s right to self-determination.
Quebec is a major component geographically of the Canadian state. It accounts for a quarter of the capitalists’ markets within Canada. It has vital mineral resources. Passing through it is the St. Lawrence seaway, providing navigational access to the Atlantic for central and western Canada.
Quebec’s oppression is a mainstay of Canadian capitalism. Because francophones suffer discrimination in jobs and income, Quebec is a reservoir of cheap labor, and thus a source of superprofits for Canadian corporations. Anti-Quebec chauvinism, based on that oppression, divides and weakens the labor movement across Canada.
Removal of their direct political control over Quebec would make Canadian capitalists’ investments there less secure. Quebec’s independence would in fact put a question mark over the economic and political viability of the remaining Canadian state.
The implications were spelled out in a recent article by John Starnes, former director-general of the RCMP security service. Writing in Survival, a publication of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Starnes said “There is no assurance that Canada could survive the shock of dismemberment; death might be inescapable, even if not immediate.”
“Canada’s internal political situation,” Starnes reminded his international audience, “is such that for the first time since NATO was formed, there is now a potential threat to the security of the North American heartland in which are located the principal vital military components of the Alliance.”
Washington, of course, shares this assessment. The Pentagon is known to have already prepared studies of the situation in Quebec, and to have rehearsed plans to intervene militarily if necessary. Its first line of defense, however, is the government in Ottawa; and the U.S. Congress was duly appreciative when Trudeau assured it, in early 1977, that he would never tolerate the break-up of Canada.
Who are the real conspirators?
Increasingly, the operations of the RCMP’s security services have been directed toward countering this threat. “As early as 1966,” Francis Fox told Parliament recently, “it was recognized by the government that greater attention would have to be given by the security service to ascertaining and assessing the nature and the extent of the separatist threat in Canada, with a view to identifying those individuals, groups and organizations whose real or apparent purpose and objective was to subvert or destroy Canada as a united country under confederation.”
Political policing is a major aspect of Ottawa’s “national unity” offensive.
The “threat” of a supposed terrorist network, the “Front de Libération du Quebec” (FLQ), has been skilfully used to portray the entire independentist movement in Quebec as an undemocratic conspiracy, to minimize the movement’s popular support, and to justify the use of repressive measures against it. The police stole Parti Québécois files, we are told, because they suspected the PQ had been “infiltrated” by the FLQ.
Yet we now know that the authorities had so much difficulty finding any evidence of FLQ terrorism and threats that they often had to fabricate it themselves.
An accurate and authoritative estimate of the “FLQ” was presented by Pierre Vallières in L’Urgence de Choisir, the book that described his renunciation of the terrorist strategy. Vallières, who was often described in the mass media as the FLQ’s “theoretician,” said “there has never been an FLQ organization as such, but only cells or small groups limited in number, in strength, and in means, without organic links, without central direction, and without a true strategy.” (L’Urgence de Choisir, Éditions Parti-Pris, 1971, p. 137)
Tiny groups like the FLQ that incorrectly seek to substitute the armed actions of a few for the action of the masses are particularly vulnerable to manipulation by the state’s repressive agencies. Vallières noted this himself, in a passage worth recalling: “...as I have emphasized several times, the letters ‘FLQ’ can be made use of by any agent provocateur in the pay of the RCMP or the CIA, without the danger of this agent being identified or denounced by anyone answerable to an organization with leadership, direction, or means of control.” (Ibid., p. 138)
It is precisely because the ruling class confronts a mass movement, and not a tiny group of would-be conspirators isolated from the masses, that it has had to create an immense arsenal of repressive agencies and techniques.
The real conspiracy is the federalist campaign against Quebec, orchestrated by the Trudeau government. It encompasses a combination of repressive tactics.
Economic blackmail. Big business and government issue repeated warnings of economic sabotage if Quebec separates — threats underscored by highly publicized evidence of the beginning of a “flight of capital,” such as the Sun Life exodus. Ontario’s Conservative premier William Davis has rejected outright the PQ’s proposals for economic association between a “sovereign” Quebec and Ontario.
Political blackmail. Threats by Ottawa to disallow Quebec legislation; initiation of a purge of “separatists” at Radio-Canada; constitutional confrontations with Quebec. Francophones throughout Canada have been blackmailed with federal promises of a trade-off of language rights for French-speaking minorities outside Quebec in return for concessions to the privileged English-speaking minority in Quebec.
Ottawa has openly encouraged Quebec anglophones to defy the Quebec government’s language law, hoping to use this opposition to create a powerful striking force of non-francophones against the independentists and their allies. Federalist forces in Quebec are being regrouped and reinforced, in particular through the rebuilding of the Liberal party.
In English Canada, Ottawa is working actively to forge a monolith of chauvinist opposition to Quebec’s rights.
And looming not very far in the background is the threat to use armed force. Trudeau trotted it out again in a year-end 1977 interview with CTV, and in doing so demonstrated the undemocratic essence of the federalist offensive.
There is no legal way Quebec can become independent, said the prime minister. And if Quebec attempts something illegal, “I’m not going to be shy about using the sword,” he said, driving the point home with a reference to his use of the War Measures Act in 1970.
Trudeau’s concern for “legality” is touching, especially in light of his repeated defense of illegality by the federal police. Nevertheless, his position that the creation of an independent Quebec — even following a democratic decision by the majority of Québécois — is illegal, contains a useful lesson on the relation between legality and democracy. They are by no means always the same, and in fact are sometimes counterposed. We have it on the authority of the prime minister.
‘Rule of law’ — guarantor of democratic rights?
Alarmed that revelations of police crimes — and the government’s defense of them — are undermining the credibility of capitalist law and justice, many liberal critics of the government call for a reassertion of “the rule of law.” Arbitrary practices, they imply, are limited to departures from the law. Adherence to lawful procedures will guarantee the protection of everyone’s democratic rights.
This is wrong on two counts.
First, in a capitalist democracy formal equality of all citizens before the law is vitiated in practice by their underlying social inequality. As Anatole France put it, a rich capitalist has as much right to sleep under a bridge as a beggar.
Secondly, the law itself is an expression of the underlying social and political relationship of forces. Capitalist laws, the ground rules of a system based on private property and privilege, enforce and reproduce inequality and injustice. And that is the role of all the state institutions that collectively make up “the rule of law” — the legislature that formulates the laws, the courts that interpret and apply them, and the police and prisons that enforce them. Because capitalist rule is arbitrary and unjust, the “rule of law” is too.
This is nowhere more evident than in the realm of “national security,” the pretext for the RCMP’s crimes. Laws and practices aimed at the protection of the state reduce capitalist rule to its simplest, most arbitrary elements. The crudest expressions occur in time of war. During the last world war, for example, Japanese Canadians were uprooted from their homes and interned in concentration camps, their property was confiscated and sold by the government. Jehovah’s Witnesses and pacifist groups were outlawed, along with revolutionary socialist organizations. Opponents of conscription were jailed in Quebec, even though the Québécois had voted by more than 80 percent against conscription. All of this was thoroughly undemocratic — and completely “legal.”
Such practices are by no means limited to times of war, however. In fact, the notion of “national security” first received legal expression in the wake of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, through changes in the Criminal Code and the immigration law. For years Marxist organizations were effectively outlawed under Section 98 of the Criminal Code. Significantly, when the Trudeau government brought in its draft Public Order Act under the War Measures in 1970, the wording was modelled closely on the old Section 98.
The War Measures Act itself was in force for no less than 40 percent of the time between the First World War and 1970; emergency powers implemented under the Act during the Second World War were not suspended until 1954.
Governments in Canada have become accustomed to employing harsh laws to repress political dissent. According to a Quebec study, Canada has had more prosecutions for sedition in the last 70 years than England had in 400 years. (Terrorisme et Justice, by Jean-Louis Baudoin, Jacques Fortin, and Denis Szabo; Éditions du Jour, 1970) Some recent examples were the prosecutions of Raymond Lemieux, the leader of the struggle for a unilingual French school system in Quebec, in 1969; and of Montreal labor leader Michel Chartrand in 1969 and 1970. It is not always necessary to convict under such laws; the expense and hardship endured by defendants is sufficient to deter others.
The use of repression as an instrument of government policy is rooted in the very nature of Canada. Like the Czarist empire, the Canadian state is a veritable “prison house of nations.” It was built on the oppression of the Québécois, the near-annihilation of Native peoples, and the degradation of the Acadiens and other francophones outside Quebec. These peoples, comprising more than one third of the present population of Canada, were never asked if they assented to Confederation. And the Québécois are not the only ones today to be questioning the value of remaining in Canada. Moreover, extreme differences of wealth and privilege within Canadian society as a whole have created a history of deepgoing class struggles. Holding such a state together has required more than a little coercion, both legal and extralegal.
Making legal what’s illegal
It is futile to look to the institutions of capitalist rule — the laws, parliament, the courts — to guarantee democratic rights. The capitalists have no hesitation in trampling on these rights, and their own “legality,” at the least sign that their interests are in jeopardy.
That’s why Trudeau shows little embarrassment at the fact that some police activities violate the formal provisions of the law. If the actions are illegal, he says, we’ll make them legal.
And that’s just what the government has been doing in recent years. The War Measures crisis marked a turning point in this respect.
Shortly after the Public Order Act was introduced, Parliament amended the Federal Court Act to permit a minister, on production of an affidavit, to prevent access by a court to any document whose disclosure would in the minister’s opinion be prejudicial to “national security” ... and (among other things) “federal-provincial relations.” Ottawa has used the law to stymie the operations of the Keable commission, and before that, to obstruct the Quebec Human Rights Commission investigation into the Olympics firings.
This was followed in 1974 with the legalization of wiretapping; in 1977, police wiretap powers were extended even further.
In 1976 the Citizenship Act was amended to authorize the federal cabinet to refuse citizenship on national security grounds without having to divulge the reasons. And in August 1977 the new Immigration Act, Law C-24, was adopted, greatly restricting entry to Canada and permanent residence status on grounds of “national security.”
The Trudeau government is now rushing through Parliament a bill to legalize what the police admit they have been doing illegally for more than 40 years: opening first-class mail. The bill, modelled on the earlier wiretap legislation, would permit any police force to open mail on the sole authorization of the solicitor general, if they claim “national security” is at stake. The purpose of the bill is not to stop crimes, as the RCMP and government allege, but to give the Mounties further immunity from prosecution in their harassment of political opponents of the government.
Examining the pattern of legislation, the Quebec-based Human Rights League was led to conclude in a recent study that “the federal government is introducing ‘war measures’ piece by piece, by providing each of its principal pieces of legislation with exceptional or extraordinary powers.”
The McDonald Commission is also part of this strategy. Its mandate, as outlined by Francis Fox, is “to help us ... in our search for ways to improve the working of the security service in the vital role assigned to it for the protection of our national security.” (House of Commons, July 6, 1977)
All these changes in the law, of course, merely reflect the increased reliance of Canadian capitalism on permanent repression as a means of rule. While social services are being cut back and wages restricted, spending on the police and military is rising to unprecedented “peacetime” levels. The 1978-79 federal budget projects an increase in armed forces expenditures by almost $400 million. Most of that amount will be used to purchase new tanks and armored cars designed for “civil insurrections.” Public sector staff levels have been frozen, but military, RCMP, and prison personnel will increase. Over the next four years Ottawa will build ten new penitentiaries in Quebec, although Quebec is the only province in Canada where the crime rate has decreased in the last 15 years.
Political policing and the fight for democratic rights
RCMP “dirty tricks” are a fundamental aspect of the developing capitalist offensive against the working class and the Quebec nationalist movement. Their exposure helps to weaken that offensive. The revelations of illegal activities serve to undermine the image of a democratic Canada; they strengthen nationalist sentiment in Quebec and discredit propaganda for “national unity” at the expense of workers’ living standards and democratic rights. Moreover, the disclosures of RCMP political witch-hunting weaken the effectiveness of the RCMP as a major instrument of federalist oppression in Quebec.
The fight against RCMP crimes is an integral part of the defense of Quebec’s right to self-determination. And it is an example of how the defense of Quebec is in the interests of English-Canadian workers. If Ottawa can get away with repressing the Quebec nationalist movement, it will be reinforced in its attacks on the English-Canadian working class.
Likewise, the struggle to expose and combat RCMP crimes against the workers movement strengthens the leading edge of the nationalist struggle in Quebec, and in English Canada aids in the defense of the major potential ally of the Québécois in their struggle against the Canadian state.
Where mass sentiment is mobilized in opposition to repression, it is possible to deal powerful blows against the government witch-hunters and their reactionary laws. Opposition to the Quebec sedition trials following the War Measures crisis resulted in the dropping of charges against most defendants, and acquittals of others. The federal government prosecuted Dr. Henry Morgentaler three times for performing illegal abortions; three times Quebec juries refused to convict him, reflecting overwhelming public opposition to Canada’s restrictive abortion laws.
Unfortunately, since the revelations of RCMP crimes began to unfold, there has been no centralized response by the victims. The trade unions, the NDP leadership, and most civil liberties groups have defaulted in their responsibilities.
The Canadian Labor Congress leadership, in a brief submitted to the McDonald Commission, actually endorsed police surveillance and harassment of the labor movement. It suggested that police intervention in the unions was justified in order to root out “communist” and “separatist” influence. The CLC, it said “recognizes a need for national security.” It worried only that the RCMP’s antisubversive activity would be misused by “overzealous people,” that is, directed against what the brief called “legitimate” union activities.
The CLC and most of its affiliated unions have said very little about revelations that the RCMP has spied extensively on many unions. (Notable exceptions are the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which have issued strong denunciations of police activities in the labor movement.)
The New Democratic Party leadership have also failed to mount an effective protest against RCMP crimes, including evidence of RCMP intervention in the party. British Columbia NDP leader Dave Barrett scoffed at reports, subsequently confirmed, that his cabinet had been spied on by the Mounties. In Ontario, NDP leader Stephen Lewis failed to protest when the province’s attorney general confirmed reports of RCMP surveillance of the party. Federal leader Ed Broadbent showed some diligence in attempting (unsuccessfully) to get access to his own RCMP file. But Broadbent and the rest of the NDP parliamentary caucus, alarmed that the RCMP revelations are undermining a pillar of the Canadian state apparatus, have hesitated to press the issue. Increasingly they have emphasized their fundamental support of the RCMP.
The CLC and NDP leaderships alike accept the underlying rationale for police spying on political dissent. They accept that the capitalist state has a “right” to take coercive measures against those who hold — or are alleged to hold — views that in some way challenge the private property system or the established state structures upholding that system.
Many of these “leaders” have played their own part in reactionary police practices. Some CLC leaders, for example, rose to the offices they hold today during the Cold War witchhunt against Communists and radicals in the labor movement. Union bureaucrats didn’t hesitate to enlist the direct aid of the government and its police in their fight against “reds.” These purges seriously weakened the labor movement — just as the failure to condemn police intervention today undermines labor’s unity.
The membership of the unions and the NDP face a major challenge to reverse these reactionary stances by their leaders. They must strive to build a broad united defense of all the victims of political policing, in both English Canada and Quebec — a powerful movement that can frustrate the government’s attempts to increase repressive legislation and strengthen the police.
In Quebec, the Human Rights League has taken a positive initiative with the launching of Opération Liberté — Operation Freedom — a campaign to unite unions, citizens groups, radical organizations, and all the other victims of “national security” policing in a common front. The campaign’s first project is to mobilize opposition to the federal bill to legalize police mail tampering.
The Quebec initiative is to be welcomed. It must be carried forward and emulated in English Canada.
It is hoped that this modest book can help stimulate such efforts.
March 28, 1978
 An allusion to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s effusive (albeit in faulty French) praise of Canada as “le plus meilleur pays au monde.”
 First published in English as Official Secrets: The Story Behind the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1990).
 The French actor, now a Russian citizen in order to escape the Socialist government’s wealth tax on high incomes, has praised Putin’s repressive regime for its supposed “democracy.”
 This is inaccurate. Under Canadian law an accused cannot be compelled to testify in his or her own defence.
 For more on the history of section 98, see Richard Fidler, “Proscribing Unlawful Associations: The Swift Rise and Agonizing Demise of Section 98,” http://socialisthistory.ca/Docs/History/Fidler-Section%2098.pdf.