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Rita MacNeil received a lifetime achievement award at the East Coast Music Awards in 2005. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Rita MacNeil was as surprised as anyone to learn she was the target of RCMP undercover agents investigating the women's movement nearly 40 years ago.

"It's just kind of bizarre," the soft-spoken singer-songwriter told CBC News by phone from Big Pond, her home community in Cape Breton.

"I just wish I had known I was under surveillance because I would've asked them for a ride home after the meetings because I had a long way to go."

MacNeil, 64, was one of dozens of women who were monitored by the RCMP in the early 1970s, apparently out of concerns about communist infiltrators, according to declassified documents.

She represented the Toronto Women's Caucus at a March 1972 meeting of women's groups in Winnipeg, and, as an RCMP memo states, was the "one who composes and sings women's lib songs."

MacNeil said the Toronto Women's Caucus met every Tuesday to discuss a variety of issues, from daycare to equal pay. She sang at various meetings, conferences and rallies, and it was during those years that she first discovered her love of songwriting and singing.

MacNeil laughs at the suggestion she was a rabble-rouser.

"It was all very straightforward and very much what people do when they're trying to get other people aware of the problems that are going on and things that need to get fixed in the world.

"I had no reason to be under surveillance, believe you me," she said, then paused and added with a chuckle, "I was just the singer."

MacNeil isn't looking for an apology from the RCMP, though she wouldn't mind hearing more about what the Mounties were doing back then.

She sees it as a "learning experience" for everyone.

"They probably felt threatened by what we were going on about, and we were very vocal about it and we wanted to see change. Maybe that was a bit upsetting to see women gather in that kind of strength and conviction."

MacNeil is at a loss to explain any communist connection.

"We would call each other up," she said, "a lot of the women were housewives and teachers and whatever, and talk about the upcoming meeting and get together, but communism never came [up]."